This May will be a great time to see a collection of double stars that the sky has to offer! If you just want something else fun to see and test your eyes while watching the Lunar Eclipse on the 15th or just want to stargaze any random night in May read this guide and we’ll explore some of the best pairs of stars the sky has to offer.

[star name redacted for eye exam in next paragraph], the double star in the Big Dipper seen here in a telescope up close enough that you can see the extra double star hidden within.

The May sky has the Big Dipper, the twins of Gemini, and Leo the lion all beautifully overhead. Without looking at the chart at the end of this article (no cheating) can you tell which star of the seven in the Big Dipper are actually two stars? This was used as an eye exam in the Roman military. If you could pick out the star in the Big Dipper that was actually two stars with the naked eye you could pass the eye exam..... do you have a guess? Check again just to be sure.... ok hint it's in the handle.... sure of your guess now... Okay, If you picked the middle star of the handle, great news you have good eyes!

Are you ready for the answer for which one of these stars is actually two stars? look back up at the Big Dipper just to double check you got the right one.... ok I give you a hint it's in the handle... look again? are you sure? okay its "Mizar" the middle of the handle of the Big Dipper.

In India they also saw Mizar as these two stars and used them to represent a married couple Arundhati. At a Hindu wedding ceremony the priest might show the newlyweds this star and tell them how it represents a marriage where both stars put their light together and shine brighter as one. Looking even closer In a telescope or binoculars (or the photo at the top of this post) you might be able to see one of these stars are two stars also!

It’s actually very common for stars to have companion stars, about 60% of stars have companion stars. Our Sun is actually in the minority for being alone. It's when you drive a desert highway at night you might see one on coming headlight on the horizon but as you get closer you'll see it split into the two headlights. the telescope is getting you close enough to see it as two stars.

Star charts to help you find Leo

Overhead and slightly to the east you will see Leo the lion! I really like this constellation because Leo is one of the rare ones that actually looks like what it’s supposed to. Leo is a lion doing a sphinx pose (it’s actually thought that the sphinx in Egypt was modeled after Leo because of how similar they are). You’ll see a bright star directly overhead just a tad south from the Big Dipper that’s Reglus, the brightest star in Leo and represents the heart of Leo. above reglus is a little C shape of stars (to me it looks like a backwards question mark “؟” if you include reglus) that’s the mane of Leo the lion. In front (to the West) of Reglus is a star representing the front paw of the lion. Behind (to the east) of Reglus are three stars of similar brightness making the back leg of Leo and the fluffy part at the end of the Lion’s tail.

Leo has an even harder eye exam. Can you see the double star in Leo with the naked eye? I personally find this one harder. Where the one in the big dipper I see right off the one in Leo I can kinda see it knowing where it is but IDK if I would have ever actually seen it myself.... give it a try.... do you have a guess? want a hint again? hint: it's in the mane... ok now you really hive it? it's the brightest star in the mane (see star chart below). For me I couldn't see it on my own but when it was pointed out to me I can kinda see it but I feel like I'm tricking myself into seeing it.

Algieba, the double star in Leo

Looking west you will easily see two stars, the Twins of Gemini, Castor and Pollux. These two stars are much easier seen as they are much further apart. The legend is Pollux (the southern of the two stars) was granted immortality by Zeus but Castor was not. Once Castor passed away Pollux was so stricken by grief that he told Zeus he could not live on forever without his brother. Zeus made Pollux a deal that both brothers could live on forever together in the celestial sphere and placed them together in the sky. You can make the twins by imagining little stick figures under (to the west of) the stars.

Drawing a line overhead starting with Gemini and going to the big dipper you will see a line of two stars that get closer and closer together. These are the deer tracks. There's a Native American legend that these are the tracks left behind by a deer. Unfortunately since they end kind of near Leo the lion we can kind of assume that the fate of the deer was to become dinner for the lion.

The "Deer Tracks" in the sky

Just between the Twins of Gemini and Leo you will find M44, the Beehive Cluster (located in Cancer). This is easily visible to the naked eye under dark clear skies (and a good way to test your eyes during the upcoming eclipse this May).

Bee Hive cluster (M44) highlighted in green in between Leo and Gemini

Pre-telescope astronomer Ptolemy described it as a "nebulous mass", It almost looks like a fainter Seven Sisters or a stray drip of the milky way. Much like the Seven Sisters this is an open cluster. In binoculars/telescopes you will see it’s actually about a thousand stars. This open cluster is about 577 light years away, I think of it like a Small town of stars just down the road (577 ly is ‘just down the road’ in cosmic terms).

M44 seen in a small set of binoculars

Come check all of these out and more on an AstroTour this May! We're doing an extra special (they're all *special*) tour May 15th for the Lunar Eclipse.

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Updated: May 4

There will be a lunar eclipse on May 15th 2022 peaking just after 10 pm (Mountain Time) in Colorado. If you would like to see the Lunar Eclipse with us click here to book a tour now! and see it up close with us! otherwise keep reading to learn how to see it your self.

Observing lunar eclipses is easy, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere that you can see the Moon. Just check in on the Moon frequently on the night of the 15th and watch it. The Moon will rise ~7:57 pm and be in a penumbral lunar eclipse (meaning the earth will only be blocking a little bit of the light of the sun from hitting the moon, so the moon will rise slightly dimmer than a full moon usually is). The Moon will get darker and darker and at 9:29 pm it will be completely shaded. The Moon will reach its darkest at 10:11 pm when it is in the middle of Earth’s shadow. Then as the Moon leaves Earth’s shadow it will get brighter and brighter, getting its first direct Sun at 10:53 pm and going back to a penumbral eclipse just after 11:55 pm, and fully illuminated just after 12:50 am (May 16th).
Lunar Eclipse Map of Visibility

A lunar eclipse is caused by an alignment of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon. This happens when the Moon is on the exact opposite side of the Earth from the Sun so that the sun’s light is blocked from reaching the Moon by the Earth.

Lunar eclipse's are often called blood Moons due to the red hue.

If you were on the Moon a “lunar eclipse” looks like a solar eclipse where the Sun is blocked out by the Earth. On the Earth we see the fully illuminated full Moon go dark (usually a dark shade of red/orange). The red/orange color is caused by the Earth’s dirty little atmosphere bending light from the Sun, so that only the deep red light is bent enough to reach the sun.

a depiction of what a lunar eclipse would look like from the moon

Switching back to the perspective from the Moon when you see the Sun tuck behind the Earth you are able to see a red/orange ring of sun around the Earth. This red/orange ring is the Earth’s atmosphere bending the light, so during a lunar eclipse an observer on the Moon would see all of the sunsets around the Earth at that moment. This is why lunar eclipses are different shades of reds and orange as what is going on in the Earth’s atmosphere changes the color. For example, a volcano in Chile made a lunar eclipse in 2015 extra dark because it released more particulates into the atmosphere.

Looking at the moon with a telescope or a simple pair of binoculars will yield amazing detail of the lunar landscape, and enhance watching Earth’s shadow progress across the Moon. The Moon is the second brightest thing in the sky (after the Sun) and can hurt your eyes if using too large of a telescope (it’ll ‘hurt’ like stepping out on a sunny day without sunglasses hurts it’s unlikely to do any actual damage), so a smaller telescope might even be better. Looking in a telescope or binoculars you will be able to tell as the Moon gets dimmer as your eyes strain. Your eyes will dilate looking at a bright full Moon around 8 pm, but at 10:11 pm you can look at it easily. Wearing sunglasses while looking in the telescope/binoculars will limit the strain on your eyes.

Mizar (the middle star of the handle of big dipper) is actually two stars. You can see this with the unaided eye fairly easily and it's a good way to test your eye sight as the moon gets dimmer and brighter during the eclipse.

You will also be able to see the effects of the Moon dimming when looking at other celestial objects such as Mizar (the double star in the big dipper) which will start the night more washed out by the Moon’s natural light pollution but will appear brighter while the Moon is eclipsed. Mizar is the middle star of the handle of the big dipper, the big dipper should be almost directly over head (maybe slightly to the north) on the evening of the lunar eclipse. Test your eyes by looking at this star before the moon is eclipsed and during the eclipse. Be sure to check out my other blog post here to see what else you can test your eyes with while looking at the Eclipse.

Come get an up close view of the eclipse on our special Lunar Eclipse tour! click here to book now!

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I'd like to welcome Victoria to Astro Tours! Victoria has been training with me for the last couple months and has already well surpassed where I was when I first started Astro Tours! Victoria has been working in astrophysics for some time now. Here's her story in her own words:

Photo Credit: Christina

Hi, I’m Victoria Concepcion and I graduated from CU Boulder with a BA in Astrophysics. I’ve always loved space and I’ve learned a lot from taking undergraduate courses. While at CU, I specifically took interest in planetary sciences and our solar system. Along with AstroTours I’m a research assistant at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics where I research planetary ices and climates. I specifically study the conditions of the poles on Mars and how dust interacts with them. I love sharing my knowledge of the wonders of space with similarly excited people! My favorite thing to show people is the Orion Nebula which is a stellar nursery and one of the brightest nebulae in the night sky. Being able to observe the formation of stars and the early life cycle of those stars is both interesting and amazing. I hope to be able to share my favorite subject with you on our tour!

Orion Nebula

Photo credit: Christina

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