¡SkyCaramba! Weekly astronomy blog for the week ending November 16, 2013
Probably, you’ve seen elsewhere on the Internet a contest called The Great Giraffe Challenge. If you incorrectly answer a question about something you’d open first in an unusual situation, you’re supposed to change your profile picture to that of a giraffe. Well, SkyCaramba invites you to take the astronomy version of The Great Giraffe Challenge. And encourage your friends to take it too.
First of all, did you know there’s a giraffe among the constellations? It’s not one of the classic constellations involving legends of millennia ago. Rather, a German astronomer named Jakob Bartsch first drew it in 1624. In reverence to the ancient Greeks, Bartsch named it Camelopardus. The word means “camel-leopard”. The Greeks of long ago thought a giraffe had a camel’s head and a leopard’s spots. In the nearly 400 years since Bartsch created the constellation, astronomers have adjusted its name to Camelopardalis.
The brightest stars in Camelopardalis are fourth magnitude, so it’s a dim constellation. It’s a very northern group of stars, so from much of the northern hemisphere the constellation is circumpolar. That means it can be seen any night of the year, provided one is not so far north as to have no night for part of the year.
The best way to find Camelopardalis is to identify the Little Dipper. The star at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle is the North Star or Polaris. You’ll find the celestial giraffe on the opposite side of Polaris. However, unlike the dipper, the animal isn’t connected to Polaris.
If you’re already familiar with the northern circumpolar constellations, you can also make a circular sweep around the North Star. Start at the Little Dipper and go clockwise through Cepheus, then to Cassiopeia, and finally to Camelopardalis.
Now for the challenge. Try to make out the image of a giraffe among those stars. It takes somewhat of an imagination for most constellations to look like what they’re said to be. It’s okay if you have trouble. You can still spread the challenge online. Let your friends on Facebook and other social media services know about this page. Perhaps you can even persuade them to change their profile pictures to the Camelopardalis constellation for a few days if they don’t correctly answer a question about this group of stars.