One of the smallest but most graceful of all constellations stands in the east this evening, gliding through the Milky Way. Although it's small, if you have a fairly dark sky it's pretty easy to spot, just below the bright Summer Triangle.
The constellation is Delphinus, the dolphin. With a little imagination, it really is possible to see this small group of stars as a dolphin. Its nose points to the left, with its brightest star standing like a fin atop its arched back.
That and the dolphin's second-brightest star got their names through a bit of scientific subterfuge.
The names are Sualocin and Rotanev. They first appeared in a star catalog published by the Palermo Observatory in 1814. The names were a bit of a mystery -- they didn't come from mythology, as many other star names do. Eventually, other astronomers realized that if you write the names backwards, they spell out Nicolaus Venator -- the Latinized version of Niccolo Cacciatore, the observatory's assistant director. There were no hard feelings, though, so the names stuck -- and you can still find them in star guides today.
Sualocin, the brighter star, is hot and white, and it's about 400 light-years from Earth. Rotanev, which is to the right of Sualocin, is a little cooler, and less than a third as far.
Look for the graceful little dolphin about a third of the way up the eastern sky as darkness falls.
Tomorrow: a hard-to-see eclipse.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2001, 2008
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