10 Jun 2012
The Summer skies are upon us. This week we will highlight a smorgasbord of things you can pick out in the skies over the next months. Most are naked eye objects but a pair of binoculars would help. Ready for a Summer checklist? Here we go.
Mars and Saturn are the stars of the evening planets now. Golden Saturn is still parked near the bright star Spica. Mars is in the constellation Virgo, farther west in the skies. But they are all three headed for each other. By mid-August, the two planets and Spica will form a beautiful grouping in the early evening western skies. These are your last months to see Saturn through a scope before it disappears into the sunset. (You can get your own star chart at skymaps.com)
Jupiter and Venus have now travelled over to the other side of the sun. That means they will be leading the sun as it rises in the morning. Mark July 15th as the day to wake up early - before dawn - to see a stunning combination of Venus, Jupiter, a crescent Moon and the star Aldeberan. It will be worth the 10 minutes of lost sleep.
As we go from June to July to August, the Milky Way will seem to arch higher and higher in the sky. Summer is when we face towards the center, brighter part of the Milky Way so the river of stars is noticeably brighter. Pick a moonless night - near the middle of each summer month - get away from the city lights and enjoy the majestic beauty of the great Way.
On the night of August 11/12, experience the annual Perseid meteor shower. The moon plays almost no role in bleaching out the skies, so, weather permitting, reserve that night and go outside and enjoy a nice shower.
Star clusters are another work of art you can see this summer, some of the most beautiful being around the constellation Sagittarius and Scorpius in the southern skies. Two such clusters are practically next to each other - M6 and M7 - and can be easily spotted with binoculars. Make the effort. They are jaw-droppers. (See star chart for directions.)
Most stars appear white. Some slightly pinkish, some a little blue. Want to see stars which are obviously colored? See Albireo. In the constellation Cygnus - aka the Northern Cross - they appear as a lone star at the foot of the cross but are actually a double star, one electric blue, the other a reddish pink.
Stars, planets, clusters, meteors, galaxies - they are all out there for your viewing pleasure. Get a star chart, a pair of binoculars and check them out. And while you are at it, randomly scan the skies for other beautiful sites. The heavens are full of them.