How to Observe an Eclipse and Find Constellations

July 28, 2015

How to observe an eclipse and find constellations

Stargazing is a beautiful way to ponder what is beyond us in space. Learn what to look for on a clear and starry night and you can connect with the stories and people of ancient times.

How to Observe an Eclipse and Find Constellations

1. Observe an eclipse safely

The only time it's safe to train the naked eye on the sun is during the brief darkness of a total eclipse, when the moon completely covers the sun. To observe a partial eclipse you need a filter to prevent damage to your eyes. Some people use inexpensive shade 14 welder's goggles (sunglasses aren't adequate), but the cheapest method is to use a pinhole projector that you can easily make yourself (search online).

2. View the constellations

A hunter, the twins and a big dog

Orion, the celestial hunter, can be located in the winter months by the three bright stars that form his belt, from which hangs a sword. His left shoulder is represented by the bright star Betelgeuse. Move your eyes up and left from the belt to locate it, then onward and you find Castor and Pollux, a constellation dominated by two bright stars visualized as the heads of the Gemini twins. Trace the slanting line of Orion's belt leftwards and down to locate Sirius, the brightest star in the whole sky. It's known also as the Dog Star as it forms part of the constellation Canis Major (the Big Dog), Orion's faithful hound

The scorpion

The zodiacal constellation Scorpius rises in the sky as Orion sets — a nightly reminder that in Greek mythology the hunter Orion was killed by the sting of a scorpion. At the heart of the constellation lies Antares, the 13th brightest star in the night sky, with the body and tail of the scorpion arcing out below and the claws fanning out above. Every couple of years the planet Mars appears to travel closely past Antares, and their similarity in colour and brightness makes them easy to confuse. This is how Antares came by its name, which translates as "rival to Mars."

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