Stargazing in the Caribbean
copyright© 1998 Jeannie Kuich



Venus is bright enough in at least the second half of this month to streak the sea in the evenings. Before dawn Mercury, Mars and Jupiter perform a fine ballet although Mars may require binoculars. The trio is tightest on the 24th.

Mon. 2nd: First Quarter
Mon. 9th: Full
Mon. 16: Last Quarter
Tue. 24th: New

Tue. 3rd: Moon and the Pleiades star sisters
Tue. 10th: Moon and the star Regulus in Leo around midnight
Wed. 11th: Moon and Saturn in evening
Fri. 13th: Moon and the star Spica in Virgo in late evening
Tue. 17th: Dim Mars and bright Jupiter very low to dawn horizon
Mon. 23rd: Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Mercury before dawn low to horizon
Tue 24th: Mercury, Mars and Jupiter tightest
Fri. 27th: Moon and Venus in evening

It's a cool, breezy February evening in the Caribbean. The palm trees are swaying to a calypso beat, the tree frogs are in syncopated chorus and the dark sky is blooming with stars. Get comfy, face south and look at the stars blinking to their own rhythm. Near and to the right of the Milky Way belt that girdles the sky is another famous belt, the one Orion the Hunter wears. Move your eye from Orion’s Belt about 20 degrees down to that brilliant white beacon, Sirius the Dog Star in Canis Major. Sirius is the number one eye-catcher, the brightest star in the night sky and in world-wide sky lore, the most important of all the stars.

But not far behind it and centered in the south below Sirius is the second brightest star called Canopus which marks the rudder in the constellation Carina the Keel, once part of Argo Navis, the Ship Argo. If you live in the upper latitudes around 40 degrees North, you have probably never seen this star as it steers the Ship on a more southerly course.

Canopus shares its name with the helmsman who piloted Helen of Troy back to Greece with her husband, King Menelaus, after the Trojan War. Before Greek mythology so widely influenced others, Canopus was well known to other parts of the Mediterranean as Suhail which symbolized that which is brilliant, glorious and beautiful.

Most of China could see it and its southern wake prompted them to call it “The Old Man of the South Pole. Later Canopus was personified as a cheery and bald old man who travels with a big peach, a symbol of wealth and longevity.

The San Bushmen of South Africa sang to the star in winter and burned a stick toward it to coaz a little more heat from the Sun. They associated Canopus with Sirius and thought the two winked similarly.

In New Zealand the Maori watched for the first predawn return of Canopus as a signal of the coming frost. Its name was Atutahi and it was used by their migrating ancestors to navigate the Pacific from eastern Polynesia.

Canopus still helps steer modern voyages on memorable quests. Because of its brightness and location within fifteen degrees of the south ecliptic pole, it is a handy navigational reference for astronauts and space craft and the southern-most beacon by which all space ships steer in the celestial seas.

Many other sky legends may be found in "Soap Operas Of The Sky", a stargazing guide by Jeannie Kuich.