The sky has recovered from our monsoonal weather. It’s cleared up. I’m quite grateful. The weather of the past few months may have brought us some welcome rain, but it also carried some serious wind that took the roof off my observatory.
Yeah, the wind was not really to blame. Mea culpa. I thought I had done enough to keep the roof secure, but that just wasn’t the case. Second time will be the charm. So, rather than drag my telescope in and out, I’m simply going to use a pair of binoculars and my own eyes until the renovation is complete. Luckily, in October, there’s plenty to see by just looking up.
The easiest object to find is the Summer Triangle. In the middle of the month, look for it well up in the sky, in the midst of the Milky Way, moving northwestward as the evening progresses. The three vertices are Deneb to the east, Vega the furthest north, and Altair to the west. Each are the primary stars of three separate constellations: Cygnus the Swan, Lyra the Lyre, and Aquila the Eagle, respectively.
If just staring at this nighttime wonder isn’t enough, the Dumbbell Nebula and the Coat Hanger star cluster are adjacent to the Triangle and can add to hours of observation, though they’re best seen with magnification. The Ring Nebula near Vega was recently in the news following the release of a spectacular image taken by the Webb Space Telescope. For me, though, the real attention grabber in this part of the sky is a naked eye beauty just to the east of Altair. It has always forced me to stop and, at least for a while, forget all the others.
I’m referring to Delphinus, the Dolphin. It’s a tiny constellation, but don’t let size get in the way. I don’t know that I see a sea creature, but its distinctive shape makes me stop and admire it because, if nothing else, to me it looks like a diamond with a tail. If the clouds stay away, the arrival of the New Moon on the 14th will give us several nights of dark skies that will make this diamond glow even more brilliantly.
There are actually dozens of stars in Delphinus, but most are very faint. The four that form the diamond look closely bound but, like everything in space, looks can be deceiving. From Earth, they range in distance from 97 to nearly 400 light years away, accidental partners through the magic of point of view. Someone trying to see the diamond from the other side of our galaxy would be out of luck. What we see is relative to where we’re viewing it from.
That’s the part of astronomy that is glaringly obvious, and yet still so very challenging. For many thousands of years, we have given names to groups of stars that appear as groups only because of where our planet is located and because, at such great distances, objects can seem closer rather than further apart. Really, it’s all an illusion.
As is often the case, what goes for the sky, goes for us on the ground. Right now, it seems as if perception is frequently in a race with reality. Clearly, perception isn’t always based on truth. From our vantage point, we gaze skyward and see a diamond, but those four stars are anything but from a different angle. Likewise, depending on where we live, what we watch, and who we listen to, we may have no doubt that what we see and hear is fact. But, maybe it requires a step back, or a bit to the side, to capture all of the possibilities.
I thoroughly enjoy the Delphinus diamond. As I admire it, though, I remind myself that there are infinite other ways it may appear from other locations, from other points of view. That reminder makes me, I hope, a better observer of things right here at home. It’s not about proving a particular view is right or wrong, though some really aren’t all that debatable. It’s about recognizing that we should never be wed to an opinion without first considering how we reached it. Tiny Delphinus is a masterful example of how truth, very often, is what we choose it be.
Harold Meckler can be contacted at email@example.com