Saturday, August 18 , 2018, 12:25 am | Fair 69º

 
 
 
 
Astronomy

Dennis Mammana: A Truly All-Star Baseball Game

Look up to see the Great Square of Pegasus after dark this week. Click to view larger
Look up to see the Great Square of Pegasus after dark this week. (Creators.com illustration)

I remember being a kid and sitting in the front room of my house next to our small black-and-white Motorola television set as my dad introduced me to many of the comedy teams of his day. What a treat it was to share laughter with him over such classic acts as Laurel & Hardy, Our Gang, The Bowery Boys and others.

Of all these hilarious acts, there’s never been any question about which is my all-time favorite: Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s on First?” You remember how it goes: “Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third.”

Even after all these years, I can’t listen to this brilliant skit without doubling over with laughter. If you’ve never heard it — and even if you have — scroll down the page to see the video.

I guess baseball’s on my mind right now because the 2016 Major League season is coming to a close, and the World Series is upon us once again. Once again, I’m sitting at home watching my favorite teams on TV!

You might ask, what does baseball have to do with stargazing? Plenty. Let me show you.

High in the eastern sky after dark right now we can see four equally bright stars that form what astronomers know as the Great Square of Pegasus. Of course, a baseball fan might prefer to see it as the Great Celestial Baseball Diamond.

Highest in this square — er, diamond — we see a star marking home plate. Moving counterclockwise around the diamond we encounter first, second and third bases. With some imagination, a creative stargazer might even spot the pitcher, catcher, umpires, on-deck batter and base coaches along the way.

And there are way too many outfielders!

While gazing up at this all-star baseball game, you may be tempted to ask, “Who’s on first?” Well, it’s Alpheratz, a name that comes from an Arabic word meaning “navel of the mare.” On second base you’ll find Algenib. On third is Markab. Batting at home plate is Scheat, and right behind is Matar, the catcher.

The stars of Pegasus are more classically associated with the front and midsections of the great winged horse of antiquity, who flew to Mount Helicon in Boeotia where the nine Muses lived. Upon landing, one of its hooves opened up a spring of gushing water that became known as the Hippocrene, or The Horse’s Fountain. It was said that drinking its water conferred on one the gift of verse, and ever since, the figure of Pegasus has been a symbol of poetry and the creative arts.

It’s a fun story from ancient mythology, but trying to trace the outline of a horse among these stars is another matter altogether. Not only is Pegasus supposed to be a flying horse but it appears upside-down. And if that weren’t confusing enough, there’s only half of an upside-down flying horse. No wonder we have trouble making it out!

I’m a pretty simple guy. Forget the winged horse, and give me a celestial baseball diamond any day, even if I have to repeatedly answer the question, “Who’s on first?”

Dennis Mammana is an astronomy writer, author, lecturer and photographer working from under the clear dark skies of the Anza-Borrego Desert in the San Diego County backcountry. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @dennismammana. The opinions expressed are his own.

(NYYGehrig video)

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