Eridanus

StarDate: February 3, 2009

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A faint river of light meanders through the evening sky this month. It's Eridanus -- a collection of stars that winds across a large section of the southwestern sky.

Many cultures have identified this pattern of stars as a river. Ancient Egyptians considered it a heavenly version of the Nile, while others thought of these stars as the Euphrates.

Eridanus begins near Rigel, the brightest star in the adjoining constellation Orion. Just northwest of Rigel, you'll see a moderately bright star known as Cursa -- "Orion's footstool." It's about 80 light-years away.

From there, the celestial river flows generally toward the south and west. There's a short spike to the northwest near the constellation's end. In classical times, Eridanus ended here, at a star named Acamar, a name that means "river's end." Later, though, the constellation was stretched a bit to the southwest. Today, it ends with the star Achernar -- a name that also means river's end.

Only a few viewers in the United States can see Achernar, which is the constellation's brightest star. It stands just above the southern horizon around 7 o'clock. But you need to be in south Florida, Hawaii, or points south to see it.

But most of Eridanus is visible across the United States. It flows across the south in early evening, which tonight places it below the Moon.

One of the stars of Eridanus could be a place to look for life. We'll have more about that tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2004, 2008

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