Volume XVII, Issue 33 # August 13 - August 19, 2009

Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

Angling the Southern Fish

Cast your eyes on this fish’s mouth

“When the Southern Fish rises into the heavens, leaving its native waters for a foreign element, whoever at this hour takes hold of life will spend his years about sea-shore and river-bank, and he will capture fish as they swim poised in the hidden depths.” So wrote the first-century astronomer Manilius.

Eighty-three years ago in December, when Bill Burton took hold of life, the Southern Fish, Piscis Austrinus, would have shone high in the southern sky. And now, as our affectionately dubbed Old Man of the Bay lets go of life, leaving his own native waters for a foreign element, this autumnal constellation rises before midnight.

The southern fish swims in a desolate part of the heavens, amid the ethereal shapes of Capricornus, Aquarius and, farther off, Pisces. Look to the southeast after 10:30pm, where Jupiter shines like a beacon. Closer to the horizon, about 20 degrees below Jupiter, look for the prominent white light of first-magnitude Fomalhaut, the lead star of Piscis Austrinus.

Translated from Arabic, Fomalhaut is the Fish’s Mouth. It is the 18th brightest star in the heavens, and while only twice as large as our sun, it burns far hotter, shining more than 10 times as bright.

Sky maps dating from the Renaissance show Piscis Austrinus drinking from the jug of Aquarius the water bearer. But thinking of my friend and fellow columnist, I see the arched line of Aquarius as a fishing rod, its line cast toward Fomalhaut, the gaping mouth of the celestial southern fish. And whoever’s holding that pole will soon find he has a thing or two to learn from Bill Burton.

Illustration: © Copyright 1925 M.C. Escher/Cordon Art-Baarn-Holland; Graphics: © Copyright 2009 Pacific Publishers. Reprinted by permission from the Tidelog graphic almanac. Bound copies of the annual Tidelog for Chesapeake Bay are $14.95 ppd. from Pacific Publishers, Box 480, Bolinas, CA 94924. Phone 415-868-2909. Weather affects tides. This information is believed to be reliable but no guarantee of accuracy is made by Bay Weekly or Pacific Publishers. The actual layout of Tidelog differs from that used in Bay Weekly. Tidelog graphics are repositioned to reflect Bay Weekly’s distribution cycle.Tides are based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and are positioned to coincide with high and low tides of Tidelog.