Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Hunt for Andromeda

I begin my quest to see Andromeda, the closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. You might know her by her more famous and romantic name: Messier 31/NCG 224. Or you might know her as the faint smudge in the night sky in the Andromeda constellation.

She's big: bigger than our galaxy. While our galaxy is an itty bitty kitty of one hundred thousand light years (I know what you're thinking- That's all? That could fit on the end of my pencil!) and holds an embarrassingly low two hundred million stars at last estimate, Andromeda is a Big Cat at one trillion or so stars. Oh well- ours holds life. I guess that that's cool, too.

So anyway, Andromeda can be seen most clearly on moonless nights. I will be waiting. The next new moon is September 8th and somehow we lucked out: the best time to see her is August to March. I will be ready to...wake my mother up to drive to the trail and stare at the night sky again. We watched meteor showers a few nights ago while listening to Sigur Ros. It was epic. Andromeda will be epic much- very epic much.

This is how one goes about locating Andromeda, presented in five steps thanks to WikiHow (with some contributions/commentary from yours truly):

Find a moonless night and get away from the television. Mad Men isn't that interesting, anyway.* Locate the Andromeda constellation. This is a given. I don't know why WikiHow felt the need to add this. Next, locate the Pegasus and the Cassiopeia. This was a little less obvious. If you are looking before December, look after eight-o'-clock.

Pegasus is shaped like a rectangle, but it's name is the Great Square of Pegasus. Cassiopeia looks like an M or a W depending on whether the glass is half empty or half full. Andromeda is in between them like a little galaxy sandwich.

Draw a line on the star Sirrah, which is at the edge of the Pegasus and Andromeda constellations, to the Ruchbah in Cassiopeia.

Find Mirach. Then find mu Andromedae. Connect these two. This invisible line will pass through the first invisible line. You might have to squint, given that mu Andromedae isn't a very bright object. And given that the line you draw is invisible, unless you own a cosmic sharpie.

Scan just southeast of where the Invisibles meet. There will be a faint oval of light- the Andromeda galaxy. Despite being 2,500,000 light years away, we can still see it. And despite being a faint smudge, it is still beautiful and powerful nonetheless. Space rocks.

Wikipedia miscounted, but the four directions that they gave were accurate. Go get some binoculars, son. We shall have an Andromeda party.

If you see this instead of a smudge, give me a call.

*It's totally on our Netflix queue, dude.

1 comment:

  1. Give me a time and a place for the Andromeda party. I'm THERE! With some notice, I might even show up with my telescope (really!)