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Summer Milky Way

Summer heat and stars to see

by Gerald Rezes

June 20 at 9:24pm PDT marked the beginning of the Summer Solstice. Our Milky Way galaxy's heart is the main attraction; filling the summer constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius and arcing across the sky. In addition, there are many Messier objects in the Milky Way's heart that are easily seen by even small telescopes. M8, the Lagoon Nebula, is a large, red star forming nebula located just west of the tip of the "teapot". Slightly above M8, is M20, the Trifid Nebula. The Trifid is a beautiful rose-like red nebula along with a blue reflective part. Rounding out the emission nebulas are M16 (Eagle Nebula) and M17 (Omega Nebula). The Hubble Telescope took a classic image of the gaseous pillars in M16.

Scorpius WikipediaThe constellation for me that signifies summer is Scorpius. Scorpius distinctly resembles its namesake from the long, curved tail to the claws. At the heart of the scorpion lays another beast, a supergiant star 800 times larger than the Sun, Antares. Right next to Antares is M4 a large, nearby globular cluster that is bright as magnitude 5.6 making it easily visible through smaller scopes. M4 is not he only globular cluster in the neighborhood; there are many, M80, M62, M19 to name a few. In addition, there are several open clusters. One of the biggest is M7, right at the end of Scorpius' tail giving it the nickname of "The Scorpion's Tail." M6, the Butterfly Cluster is another brilliant open cluster near M7.

Moon Phases

  • Jun. 30 - First Quarter
  • Jul. 8 - Full Moon
  • Jul. 16 - Last Quarter
  • Jul. 23 - New Moon
  • Jul. 30 - First Quarter
  • Aug. 7 - Full Moon
  • Aug. 14 - Last Quarter
  • Aug. 21 - New Moon
  • Aug. 29 - First Quarter
  • Sep. 6 - Full Moon
  • Sep. 12 - Last Quarter
  • Sep. 19 - New Moon
  • Griffith Observatory

With so much to see in the Milky Way's heart, one almost forgets that there is much more sky to look at in the shortened summer nights. The asterism, the Summer Triangle, makes its way from east to west all throughout summer. The triangle is made up of the bright stars Vega in Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus and Altair in Aquila. Giving way to another asterism, Cygnus, the swan, is also referred to as the Northern Cross, a much larger cousin to its Southern counterpart. In Lyra, lays M57, the Ring Nebula. The Ring Nebula would be a hard object to spot in the vastness of the sky seeing that it is a little planetary nebula, but it is nicely situated right in between the bottom two stars of Lyra. This position make it possible to spot M57 even in a small telescope. Another well situated celestial object is the globular cluster M13 in Hercules. M13, the Great Globular, is one of the biggest and brightest seen in the northern hemisphere and lays nearly in the middle of two of the "keystone" stars in Hercules.

Planets: August 21 is the date for the Great American Eclipse. Saturn dominate the summer sky with Jupiter making its way west,towards sunset and gone by summer's end. Uranus is magnitude 5.8 in Pisces and Neptune is magnitude 7.9 in Aquarius.  To view them, check out this Sky & Telescope's this week's guide.  Venus returns to the evening sky.  Lastly, Pluto is in Sagittarius for the advanced astronomer to attempt to find.