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The ocean in the autumn sky


Tonight for November 7, 2015

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Tonight … come to know the ocean in the autumn sky. The chart at the top of this post makes the southern sky in autumn look crowded. But, if you look, you’ll find only one bright star shining here. It’s the star Fomalhaut, which from the Northern Hemisphere appears to shine in solitary splendor every northern autumn. From our northerly latitudes, Fomalhaut is easy to spot in the south. You would need a very dark sky, and you’d need to sweep your gaze from southeast to southwest, a couple of hours after sunset, to see the faint stars all around Fomalhaut. This part of the sky – and these faint stars in Fomalhaut’s vicinity – are what the ancient stargazers regarded as a celestial ocean. Many of the constellations in this part of the sky are connected with water – perhaps because the sun was moving in front of these stars on the great pathway of the ecliptic during a rainy season long ago.

In a dark sky, you can see Cetus the Whale, Pisces the Fish, Aquarius the Water Carrier, Capricornus the Sea Goat and Delphinus the Dolphin – all in Fomalhaut’s vicinity. Fomalhaut itself is located in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish – another swimmer in the celestial ocean.

Fomalhaut is sometimes called The Lonely One or The Solitary One. It’s said to be lonely because it’s noticeable as the only bright object in an otherwise empty region of the sky. This is a blue-white star, located only a couple of dozen light-years away. It’s one of the easiest stars to find any northern autumn, because it’s so bright and so solitary.

November 2015 guide to the five visible planets

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