Look for lonely Fomalhaut and the faint southern constellations

2013-10-24T00:00:00Z Look for lonely Fomalhaut and the faint southern constellationsBy Tim Hunter Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

It is a good time to view one of amateur astronomer’s favorite stars — Fomalhaut. If you look directly south at 9 p.m., Fomalhaut will be nearly 30 degrees above the horizon.

It is the 18th-brightest star in the sky and is usually visible even in light-polluted skies. I call it “lonesome” because Fomalhaut is the only bright star seemingly in the middle of nowhere with no other bright stars anywhere close to it. When I look at Fomalhaut above the sky glow over Tucson, it is by itself.

Fomalhaut is a favorite star for amateur astronomers because it has a catchy name (fish’s mouth in Arabic) and it stands as a lonely sentinel in the southern sky. It is 25 light years from us and has luminosity 16 times that of the sun.

If you have a dark southern sky, a handy star map, or a good star-mapping smartphone application, try to find several faint southern constellations that are near Fomalhaut and visible in the early evening. They are challenging  because they are composed of faint stars. Do your best to find Grus the Crane, Piscis Austrinus the Southern Fish, Microscopium the Microscope and Aquarius the Water Carrier.

While the constellations are not dramatic for naked-eye viewing, they contain many telescopic objects of interest to astronomers.

Piscis Austrinus and Aquarius are ancient constellations coming to us through myth and legend as codified by the great Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy of Alexandria (100-170 A.D.) in his massive work the Almagest. Grus and Microscopium are more modern concoctions from the 17th and 18th centuries, respectively.

Contact Tim Hunter at skyspy@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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