Looking Up: Dolphin Dreams

Sep 16, 2019

Using a small telescope to scan the skies on August 14, Japanese amateur astronomer Koichi Itagaki discovered a "new" star within the boundaries of the constellation Delphinus. Indicated in this skyview captured on August 15 from Stagecoach, Colorado, it is now appropriately designated Nova Delphini 2013.
Credit Jimmy Westlake (Colorado Mountain College) / nasa.gov

On Looking Up this week we hear about a diamond encrusted dolphin visible in the late summer skies above Colorado.

Quite often on these broadcasts, I talk about things that are really big. Heck, the universe is pretty large, so it makes sense that lots of big and cool things are out there. But today I want to talk with you about one of the tiniest of the constellations, Delphinus the Dolphin.

Ranking 69th out of 88 constellations size-wise, Delphinus is high in the Colorado night sky this time of year. You’ll need darker skies and maybe even binoculars to spot it. Ancients said it was the dolphin sent by Poseidon to find his future bride. Delphinus did a good job, and as a result was rewarded by being raised to the night sky. There are four brighter stars in Delphinus that make what we call an “asterism,” or a shape that is contained within a larger constellation. The most famous asterism is the Big Dipper, which is part of the larger constellation Ursa Major. The asterism in Delphinus carries the unlikely name of “Job’s Coffin,” in that the stars make up a roughly diamond-shape, that apparently some folks thought looked like a coffin thousands of years ago. I have a warm spot in my heart for Delphinus, because it was one of the first things I learned to spot when I was training to operate my high school’s planetarium way back in the 1970s. I still remember Dr. Rosemergy teaching me how to run the very old Ziess projector, and the tiny diamond of Delphis was a favorite target of his. Dr. Rosemergy is well into his 90s, and is still doing astronomy down in Texas. It’s always a pleasant reminder of a great teacher when I get out and see Dephinus the Dolphin.  

If you’d like to take a closer look at Delphinus, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties!