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Peer into vast ocean of stars in autumn evening sky


Tonight for November 8, 2014

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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 appears to shine in solitary splendor every autumn. Fomalhaut is easy to spot in the south – even on these moonlit autumn evenings. 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 an ocean in the autumn sky. 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.

What is the ecliptic?

The moon will drop out of the evening sky in a few more days. 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 Pisces 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. You’ll easily find Fomalhaut tonight, because it’s the closet bright star to the moon. 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 autumn, because it’s so bright and so solitary.

November 2014 guide to the five visible planets