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Studying the autumn sky with your child

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As we move into fall, our sky starts to shift to expose the autumnal constellations. This is a great opportunity to teach your children about the night sky, constellations, and the stories behind it all. As you may know, constellations are heavily based around mythology, getting their names from some major heroes and villains. As our nights lengthen, the summer Milky Way fades away except for the Summer Triangle, which remains visible in the west until early winter. What else will we see in the autumn sky?

  • Delphinus: Also known as “the dolphin,” this constellation sits in the northern sky. The story says the constellation, made up by 5 stars, represents the dolphin sent by Poseidon to find Amphitrite, the Nereid (sea nymph) he wanted to marry.
  • Great Square of Pegasus: Your child might recognize the name of this constellation, being the beloved flying horse of many Grecian heroes. This constellation is made up by four stars and represents Pegasus’ body. It is one of the most recognizable and shares a star with another constellation, Andromeda.
  • Cassiopeia: One of the most well-known constellations in the night sky, it is made up of five stars and can be found by using the Big Dipper and Polaris (The North Star). Originally known as Cassiopeia’s Chair, the International Astronomical Union changed the official name to Cassiopeia the Queen in the 1930s. As the story goes, the queen boasted her beauty so much, it angered Poseidon, the sea god. This led him to send a sea monster to ravage Cassiopeia’s kingdom, but to appease the monster, she agreed to sacrifice her daughter, Princess Andromeda.
  • Andromeda: Luckily, Andromeda’s story doesn’t end there. She was rescued by Perseus the Hero, who was flying above and noticed the princess chained to a rock in the sea. He defeated the monster, fell in love and married Andromeda. They were both placed in the sky, right next to each other, with Andromeda’s constellation representing a woman chained to a rock. This constellation also contains a galaxy, which is the closest major galaxy to the Milky Way.
  • Auriga: Located near Perseus, it is a pentagon-like shaped constellation which contains Capella, the sixth brightest star in the autumn night sky. It is said that Auriga, the son of Hephaestus, couldn’t walk – therefore he tamed four horses and built his own chariot to ride around on, where he was later placed in the stars still on his chariot.

Whether you believe the myths or not, it is always fun to take a moment to appreciate the night’s sky for what it shows (and what it doesn’t). Try making your own constellation with your child, and make up a story to go along with it.