Ever go bird watching at night?
These birds have their own lights allowing you to see them. There are eight constellations recognized today, named after birds.
The stars are the lights, marking their imaginative outlines. While the stars no nothing of earthlings’ predilection to connect them into patterns, they help give us a connection, while inspiring us to look up and enjoy the heavens and seek further into the nature of the starry realm beyond our pictures. They also help us to remember the location of the stars.
Constellations named for our feathered friends include Aquila the Eagle, Columba the Dove, Corvus the Crow, Cygnus the Swan, Grus the Crane, Pavo the Peacock, Phoenix the Firebird and Tucana the Toucan.
Columba, Grus, Pavo and Tucana are best seen or only seen in the far south. Columba does “fly” just over the southern horizon on winter evenings from mid-northern latitudes.
For us northerners, while many birds are flying back in the spring and visiting our backyard feeders, only one celestial bird soars in the evening springtime sky: Corvus the Crow.
In late April, early May, you can see the Crow as it rises in the southeast, at around 8 p.m. or later. It is highest in the south at about 11 p.m.
I always liked the Crow. None of the stars are brilliant, but the four principal stars are of third magnitude, not hard to see when the moon isn’t close to full. These stars form a conspicuous quadrilateral - a very uneven square. The opposite corner stars, on the upper right and lower left, each have a star close by that add to the constellation figure.
Truth is, it’s hard to imagine a crow, but it is still striking.
The top left star is named Algorab (or Delta Corvi). The top right star is Gineah (Gamma Corvi). At the bottom right is Minkar (Epsilon Corvi). At the bottom left is Kraz (Beta Corvi). Just below Minkar is the star Alchiba (Alpha Corvi).
Corvus is one of the ancient constellation patterns, conceived by Ptolemy in the second century. Each constellation has a story behind it, or more than one. One Greek legend has it that Apollo sent Crow aloft to spy out his affections for Coronis. The Crow reported back that Coronis was unfaithful; to reward the bird, Apollo immortalized the Crow among the stars.
The Chinese envisioned this star pattern as the Red Bird. The Romans and Hebrews called it the Raven. The Brazilian Bororo people imagined a land tortoise. The Tucano people of the northern Amazon pictured an egret.
With a telescope, take a look at Algorab, which is a fine double star, with contrasting colors of yellow and purple.
Three of the fainter stars of Corvus are known to have planets.
Another star, 31 Crateris (originally placed in the neighboring star pattern Crater the Cup) was once mistaken as a moon of Mercury. On March 27, 1974, the Mariner 10 space probe detected ultraviolet emissions near Mercury, suggesting it was from a satellite, but it turned out to be the star.
Corvus the Crow is to the left of the very dim constellation, Crater the Cup. Just below is part of the very long constellation Hydra the Water Snake. Two other dim star patterns nearby were suggested as constellations but never became official: Noctua the Owl and Felis the Cat!
The brightest star near the Crow is the bright white star Spica, glowing in the large Virgo constellation, 10 degrees to the northeast (upper left) of Algorab.
Look for the crescent moon in the evening sky this weekend, as it passes by the brilliant planet Venus. First quarter moon is on April 30.
Keep looking up at the sky!
Peter Becker is managing editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, Pennsylvania. Notes are welcome at email@example.com. Please mention in what newspaper or website you read this column.