Get an angle on Winter Triangle

Throughout the year, the stars that make up the celestial dome over Rochester form a plethora of pictures and patterns. Most of what we see are the individual constellations that were used by ancient cultures as visual aides to tell tales of mythology that vary from culture to culture.

The majority of the tales that are best known in this part of the world are based on Greek and Roman mythology. While different cultures have their own unique mythology, all of the constellations are pictures of the characters that make up these tales of the night sky. 

What’s also a common thread is that most of these constellations don’t look much like what they’re suppose to portray. You really have to put your imagination into overdrive to see what these constellations are supposed to represent.

Many constellations also display some pretty unique geometrical shapes and asterisms. For example, the connecting lines of stars in the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen resembles a giant "W." And the right side of the constellation Leo the Lion outlines a backward question mark.

One of the best constellations are the seven stars that make up the rear end and tail of Ursa Major the Big Bear. You see it every clear night as the Big Dipper.


There are much larger asterisms in the sky that use stars from several adjoining constellations. They can be great tools in learning constellations.

One of these is known as the Summer Triangle. It is made up the brightest stars from three separate constellations. At the corners are Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, Deneb in the constellation Cygnus the Swan and Altair in the constellation Aquila the Eagle. Each one of these stars is the brightest shiner in its home constellation.

The Summer Triangle is easy to see at a glance in the summer and autumn sky. It can also be a very good tool to help you find your way around that part of the sky.

I especially enjoy the Winter Triangle, which is now on display in the southern sky. It’s a perfect equilateral triangle made up three bright stars from three separate constellations: Betelgeuse from the constellation Orion the Hunter, Procyon, the brightest star in the constellation small Canis Minor the Little Dog, and Sirius, the brightest star in Canis Major the Big Dog.

Sirius and Procyon are almost twice the diameter of the sun. They are also more luminous. The main reason they’re so bright, though, is because they’re relatively close to the Earth. Procyon is 11 light years away and Sirius is a little more than 8 light years away.

The third star of the Winter Triangle is Betelgeuse, a huge star that is more than 500 light years away. This giant, red star is almost a billion miles in diameter and within the next million years or so, it will burst into a colossal supernova explosion.

Until then, you can see it shining brightly in the upper right hand member of the Winter Triangle.

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