Butterflies and Stars all in a morning!

One of the many benefits to getting up sooo early… early being, before Sunrise is that you get to watch the butterflies warming up in the morning light.  Do you like to do photography? Go out early and you will have a better chance of photographing some of the more elusive native butterflies by watching for them resting and doing their warm ups – flexing those wings for flight, on cool Fall mornings.

Here is a Gulf Fritillary in my yard soaking up early morning rays.  When I found myself initially standing outside at 7am gazing around at the night sky one of the first constellations I noticed overhead was Orion the Hunter   Just look for the three belt stars in a row that tell you it’s Orion!   Near the belt stars is the bright planet Jupiter, also overhead and down lower, nearer to Orion is the dog star Sirius in the constellation of Canis Major

Gulf Fritillary ButterflyGulf Fritillary Butterfly

a Little Bird Said: Go Star-Gazing!

I woke to the calls of a brilliant red sentinel Cardinal sitting up in the tops of the Mulberry Tree..  Today I’m planting out Nasturtium seedlings into pots and then  working on tonights Observing session for CREW Land and Water Trust.  Jim is busy adding a new Telrad to the LaVigne  10″ Dobsonian telescope for tonights use.

If you miss this evenings (Feb 9) Public Observing Session (Registration for tonight is closed)  at CREW we will offer another observing opportunity March 9th so if you happen to be in South West Florida visiting, or you live here, consider signing up via this link to attend our Family Star Gazing session.    

What will we see?  Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, various Star Clusters.. Galaxies M31 and M32 as well as pointing out numerous constellations and bright stars as well as telling some star-tails from CREWs beautiful Dark-Sky observing site I simply call Star Gazers Field.  If you go to the above Star Gazing link it will give you all the information about what you need to bring (don’t forget the blankets!) as well as where CREW Gate 5 is located.  Pre-Registration is required so check your calendar for March and include the Night Sky – Star Gazing, in your next family adventure into the Wilds of South West Florida! 

Sentinel Cardinal

Sentinel Cardinal

Make time to see the Stars..

A Star Gazing moment.
South West Florida, All times are in EST.

a Color Star Chart for January to Print out.


With the mayhem of the Fiscal Cliff and the rush of the Holidays OVER  (at least for now)  it’s time to make time and do some things to de-compress…  Things like.. take a walk in the woods at a favorite nature preserve, visit a museum, or perhaps just take time out to go outside and look up at the night sky.  Yes, just walk over, turn off that blithering TV, and go outside and look up and relax in a lawn chair or on the ground.  

If you don’t have a good view of the night sky where you are, consider visiting a Planetarium, a State Park, or a local Observatory to Star Gaze from.  Go outside around 8pm and look East you’ll see three bright stars that make up Orion’s Belt all arranged neatly, (from our perspective anyway) in a row.  They are from bottom to top, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. The bright visibly reddish looking star in the shoulder of Orion is Betelgeuse.  Betelgeuse is one of the largest stars known, with a diameter over 650 times that of the Sun! (It’s overhead by 11pm.)

By 7:30pm as the evening has progressed and these constellations rise higher in the sky go outside again and look for another bright star Sirius, in the Constellation of Canis Major – this is Orion’s dog. Sirius is also called the Dog Star. An easy way to find Sirius is to take the belt stars of Orion and draw a line down toward the horizon. Bright Sirius is overhead by midnight. At 9:49pm the brightest “Star” overhead from Orion is not a star at all but the planet Jupiter nestled up in the V shape of the horns of Taurus the bull.

Below Star Chart image credit is SkySafari for the Mac.

Orion Taurus Jupiter


Dog Days of Summer.


Above:   Orion and Sirius, The Dog Star.

Our South West Florida Summers are renowned for their heat and humidity.  Growing up, during Summer our gardening efforts ceased except for a few tomatoes and heat loving okra (I love okra pickles.)  Today I liken going outside on a hot summer day to “opening the oven door.”   But I also know that even before Summer truly arrives, the sky tells me what is on the way by showing me the constellations and their bright stars overhead and there is a point in the dead of Summer that I can go outside, early before sunrise, and greet the assurance of the coming Winter constellations and attendant bright stars such as Sirius.


Just the other day I was out with my mom and we got to talking about the heat, and what was growing vis not growing and she mentioned “It’s the Dog Days you know” and sure enough, it is.  You may wonder, what a strange term, “Dog Days…”  and what does it have to do with the night sky, with Summer, and growing things…  Older readers may be more familiar with the term. 


Dog Days are more than an ancient expression it is actually a section of time as we move through the year on this great, blue ball of water…  Dog Days occur during the month’s of July and August our hottest months.  The Greeks used the expression as well as the Romans and Egyptians to denote a time of the year when the sultry heat was most intense and  according to Brady’s Clavis Calendarium c1813  “the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.”


Astronomically / Astrologically, The Dog Days were marked by the yearly Heliacal rising of Sirius above the Eastern horizon, just before sunrise, after a period of time when Sirius had been behind the sun (from our viewpoint) and invisible.   Ancient cultures used the Heliacal rising of bright stars to help set holidays and events.  For Ancient Egyptians, Sirius appeared on the horizon just before the time of the yearly Nile inundation.  To the Egyptians, the star was  Sothis.  Sothis was used as a “watchdog” for that very event. Since its rising also coincided with a time of extreme heat, the connection with hot weather was ingrained into our ancient lore:   “Dog Days bright and clear / indicate a happy year. / But when accompanied by rain, / for better times our hopes are vain.”      


Sirius is the brightest star in the constellation of Canis Major and the brightest star in the sky.  Canis, here in SW Florida is a Winter Constellation, easily located by taking the line of belt stars of Orion, and tracing the line out to Sirius, ringed in red on the map.  (see above image)    The very name Sirius comes from the Greek word for “searing” or “scorching”  although it’s also known as “The Sparkling One”  “Nile Star” or today; “The Dog Star”  There is a universality in lore regarding Sirius.  The Pawnee tribe of North America, and others, referred to Sirius as the ‘Wolf Star’ which indicates this Mythology of Sirius may have extremely ancient roots.  Many cultures used the risings of bright stars such as Sirius as markers of time, to tell them when to harvest but today we remember the associated “Dog Days” simply as the hottest, and occasionally most uncomfortable part of the year.