Stars over Sisters 1/04/2022
Last updated 1/4/2022 at Noon
As the holiday season winds down and visiting in-laws return to their respective homes, the pace of life slows to something more manageable for many of us. Happily, this should result in more opportunities to take in the splendor of a star-studded winter night sky in January.
Lepus the Hare is this month’s featured constellation. Certainly not the brightest group of stars in the sky, Lepus nevertheless is easy to locate because it lies directly beneath one of the most recognizable constellations in the sky, namely Orion the Hunter.
Shining at a magnitude of 2.6, Arneb (“the hare” in Arabic) is Lepus’ brightest star. It is a yellow-white supergiant, believed to be only 13 million years old, but is likely to expire within the next million years or so. This is because the star is about 14 times more massive than our sun, causing it to “burn” its fuel at a furious rate. It is 2,200 light-years away.
Perhaps the most remarkable star in this constellation is the famous variable star R Leporis, frequently called the Hind’s Crimson Star. Discovered by J.R. Hind in 1845, this object is a Carbon Star, meaning it is surrounded by a thick atmosphere of carbon that tends to absorb all but the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Hind described its appearance as “the most intense crimson, resembling a blood-drop on the background of the sky.”
Although Lepus does contain a smattering of deep-sky objects, just two are particularly noteworthy. The brightest of these is M79, a globular star cluster located about 42,000 light-years away. The other is planetary nebula IC 418 which consists of an expanding shell of gas expelled from a dying star on its way to becoming a white dwarf. Dubbed the Spirograph Nebula, this object lies about 2,000 light-years away.
The remainder of this article is dedicated to calling further attention to preserving dark skies in our community. As concerned members of the Student Sisters Astronomy Club, the authors conducted a random survey of Sisters High School students, asking if it was important to them that dark skies be maintained in Sisters. More than 96 percent of the respondents said this was a serious issue and that action needs to be taken. The following are quotes from those students who replied to the survey:
•?Chloe Wessel, senior: “Whenever I go outside at night and see them, it wows me and I don’t think it’s ever not going to do that. It’s something that can be so special, peaceful, and beautiful, and I would hate to see that vanish because of something preventable.”
•?Mary Laprey, sophomore: “Growing up in a big city, light pollution really affected how I could see stars at night. Because of this whenever I would come to sisters or go camping, I would always look forward to seeing them and it was almost a special little treat. Now that I live here, I get to see them more often, and when I do get to see them, it makes my day.”
•?Sydney Linn, junior: “I only ever noticed the stars when I moved out here. They are very beautiful, and if I hadn’t moved out here, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the chance to see them as much as I do today.”
•?Elana Mansfield, junior: “I think it is incredibly important to see the stars because it gives a perfect example of how vast our universe is. We are lucky enough to be able to look up and see millions of shining stars and recognize how complex and beautiful they are, along with how complex that makes our own existence. I can’t imagine what life would be like with a blank night sky and no concept of what is beyond us.”
•?Miles O’Neill, sophomore: “I love the stars. I love looking at them and thinking about them. It would be sad if we couldn’t see them.”
Mackenzie Shelswell-White, senior: “I myself marvel at our ability, specifically in Sisters, to be able to see the Milky Way and almost always have stars to look at and recognize in our night sky. Imagining people going an entire lifetime without experiencing something as spectacular as a starry-filled night sky, all because of how others use and manage their light, seems absurd and frankly sad, so I’m on board with preserving dark skies.”
Here is this month’s dark sky tip: Use lights only when needed. Shield them to direct the light only where it’s needed. Control lights with timers so they are off when not in use, keep them as dim as possible, and, most importantly, use warm-colored lights.
The authors appreciate the readers who take these tips into consideration to help promote dark skies.