Most constellations bear little resemblance to their namesakes. You need a great imagination to see a king in the stars of Cepheus, for example, or a “sea goat” in Capricornus.
One constellation that does resemble its namesake is the dolphin, Delphinus. It’s a small grouping of stars that’s low in the east at nightfall, and swims high across the south later on. And that little group of stars really does look like a dolphin jumping through the edge of the starry Milky Way.
In Greek mythology, Delphinus carried a poet to safety when he jumped overboard to escape some nasty sailors. The poet and the dolphin were commemorated in several coins that were issued around 500 B.C. And the dolphin gained longer-lasting recognition through its own constellation.
None of the individual stars of Delphinus is particularly interesting. The brightest is Beta Delphini. It’s near the center of the constellation, and marks the end of the dolphin’s torso. The dolphin’s body stretches to the left as it climbs higher in the sky, and its tail to the right.
Beta Delphini is actually a binary. The two stars were born from the same cloud of gas and dust, and they remain bound to each other by their mutual gravitational pull. They orbit each other once every 27 years.
Look for the beautiful dolphin swimming into view in the east as darkness falls, and climbing high across the south during the night.
Tomorrow: listening in on the Red Planet.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012