More Stargazing (Andromeda Spiral Galaxy)

This is such a great time of year to watch the heavens.  A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the Andronema Spiral, and the great dimensions of time and distance involved.  It is nearly straight overhead this time of year at about 10:00 pm, and can be observed on moon-less nights, such as we’ll have now for another week and a half. 

 

The “Great Square,” a group of four bright stars in the constellation Pegasus forming a big, somewhat out of shape, empty box, is easy to find straight up and a little to the south of due east.  An imaginary line from the top right star through the bottom left star continues into the Andromeda constellation.  Your line will intersect three fairly bright stars, the third being quite bright.  From the middle star of those three, go up and a little to the left to another star, then up and a little more to the left to the next.  The Andromeda Galaxy, very similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy, appears as a dim light just above that star. 

 

You might notice that when you look right at it, you can’t see it, but when you look just off to the side it seems to reappear.  That is because when you look directly at an object it focuses on the macula, the small area of the retina where the cones are, which only works in brighter light, and gives us color vision.  Looking off to the side focuses it on another area of the retina that holds the rods, and they work much better in dim light.  Thanks to my good friend Dr. Jim Hess, a Twin Cities optometrist originally from Paynesville, for that interesting information.

 

So, how far is it to the Andromeda Spiral?  If you got in your little spaceship and zoomed off for 129 million miles in that direction, and then repeated that 1000 times, you would be one millionth of the way there!  More great campfire conversation!