This time of year many Americans race to beat the deadline of filing their taxes. There are at least two kinds of folks who are sweating it today: those who have filed and have to pay taxes, and those who haven’t filed and will be racing to the post office before midnight to get them filed. This year, and for several years now, thanks to Al Gore and the Internet, I’ve managed to file my taxes via computer — thus omitting some of the stress from April 15th (although not the pain of paying).
If you are filing your taxes today and you’re making the midnight run to the post office, make sure you take some time after it’s all over to glance up in the sky. If it’s clear, look nearly overhead for the Tax Time Constellations of Bootes (with the bright star Arcturus at its tip) and Corona Borealis, with the star Gemma (also known as alpha Corona Borealis, or Alphekka) gleaming from the arc of stars that make it up.
Once you get back home, you’ll probably be all keyed up from the mad dash and can’t get to sleep. And, you’re probably tired of watching CNN or Skynews all night. So get back outside, and grab a pair of binoculars to take along. See if you can use them to find a little globular cluster of stars in the Keystone of Hercules, just to the east of Corona Borealis. On the chart, I’ve marked it for you — it’s called M13 and its about 2/3 of the way up the left side of the Keystone.
Now, once you’ve spotted that, give a look over at the Big Dipper in the northwest. Find the handle and then look at the star in the bend of the handle. It’s called Mizar. But, actually there are two stars there — if your eyesight is really good, you might be able to spot them both without help. Through binoculars you can clearly see two stars. Actually there are six stars there, but you’d need a good sized telescope to see them.
Now, wasn’t that a nice way to end Tax Day?
Note: I forgot to mention that the Moon would be fairly bright around midnight. It’s a waxing gibbous Moon and will be a full Moon on the 16th. Its brightness makes it a bit tougher to spot M13, although not impossible. Don’t worry too much about it if you don’t find the cluster right away — in a few days the Moon will not be as much of a problem!
Also, the chart up there was created using Cartes du Ciel, a desktop planetarium available for download at: Astro-PC