WPBT2's Star Gazers

Episode #12-34 "The Pussy Cat and the Scorpion : A Strange Tale of a Tail"
Air Dates August 20 - August 26, 2012

DEAN: Hey there Star Gazers. I’m Dean Regas, astronomer for the Cincinnati Observatory.

JAMES: And I’m James Albury, director of the Kika Silva Pla planetarium in Gainesville, Florida. Far-out fellow Star Gazer, Marlene Hidalgo, will be joining us to help you find your way around the sky tonight.

DEAN:  Although the night skies are loaded with constellations named after animals, not one of them is named after America's favorite household pet, the pussy cat.

JAMES: However to compensate for this obvious negligence, every summer two marvelous cat's eyes glide across summer's skies and in the most improbable of places, on the tail of a scorpion. Let’s show you.


DEAN: OK., we've got our skies set up for any night in August from after dark to after midnight where if you look toward the south you will see summer's biggest constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. It's one of the few constellations, which actually looks like its name. It even has a red star, where its heart should be, named Antares, which is a humongous 700 times wider than our own million-mile wide sun.

JAMES: And if you follow the stars down from Scorpius' heart star you will see how his rather nasty tail curves up and then back on itself just like a real scorpion's tail with two stars marking its poisonous stinger. Their Arabic names from left to right are Shaula and Lesath. And these names mean "the sting".

DEAN: In folk legend however, they are not only "the sting" but are also the two eyes of an ancient celestial cat, which stare out at us every single summer. Now although they don't appear to be all that exceptional to the naked eye, if we look deeper into these cat's eyes with a telescope we can see the secrets they have hidden within them for thousands of years,


JAMES: Wonderful secrets because when we compare each star to our sun they are truly marvelous. Indeed while our sun is about a million miles wide, Shaula is almost twice as wide. And it is a much hotter star than our yellow sun and burns a fierce blue-white and is in fact 1,200 times more luminous. It looks dimmer only because it is 280 light years away, which means that we see Shaula not as it exists now this summer but as it existed when its light left it 280 years ago in the early 1700's.

DEAN: Lesath, the dimmer of the two, is even more incredible and appears dimmer only because it is over 5 times farther away than Shaula, 1,600 light years beyond, which means that we see it not as it exists now but as it existed 1,600 years ago around 400 A.D. and it burns an even fiercer blue-white hot than Shaula and is 15,000 times brighter than our sun, plus Lesath makes both Shaula and our sun seem puny by comparison because it is 2 1/2 times the diameter of Shaula and 7 times as wide as our sun. Some pussy cat, eh folks?

JAMES: And if you look off to the right of Scorpius in the next few weeks, you’ll be able to see Saturn and Mars. Mars will keep coming closer and closer to Antares every night but they’ll both get steadily lower in the evening sky. An especially good view will be on the evening of September 19, when a four and a half day old moon will be just to the left of Mars.

DEAN: Meanwhile in the morning skies just before dawn, three planets will greet you early morning sky gazers. Closest to the horizon is Mercury and you shouldn’t wait too long to look for it as Mercury will soon leave the morning sky. Brilliant Venus and bright Jupiter will be in the morning sky through Christmas but Venus and Jupiter will steadily get farther apart as Venus turns and follows the sun.

JAMES: Make a note on your calendar and look for a close pairing of a last quarter moon and Jupiter on the morning of September 8th and a gorgeous close pass of a thin crescent moon by Venus on the morning of September 12th.

DEAN: So get outside after sunset the next few weeks look south and find these two magical cat's eyes peering through summer nights as they silently glide across the southern sky masquerading as the sting of the scorpion. The red planet mars will steadily close in on red Antares each night.

JAMES: And Jupiter and Venus will dominate the morning sky for the rest of the fall. All of these are great reasons to…

BOTH: Keep looking up!



Episode #12-34 "The Pussy Cat and the Scorpion : A Strange Tale of a Tail"
Air Dates August 20 - August 26, 2012

JAMES: Although there is no constellation named for a pussy cat there are two cat's eyes in summer's skies.


DEAN: Look south for the fishhook shaped pattern of stars Scorpius the Scorpion. Follow the curve of stars and you'll see two stars which mark his stinger named Shaula and Lesath.

JAMES: In ancient times these two were known as the cat's eyes. Shaula, which is 2 times as wide as our million-mile wide sun, is so far away we see it as it existed 280 years ago.

DEAN: Lesath however, is a humongous 7 times as wide as our sun and so incredibly much farther away than Shaula that we see it as it existed 1,600 years ago.

JAMES: So look for these 2 magnificent cat's eyes as they ride across summer's skies on the tail of the scorpion.

BOTH: Keep looking up!


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