by Gerald Rezes
June 20 at 8:31 pm PDT marks 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.
The 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 the 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.
- Jun. 24 – Full Moon
- Jul. 1 – Last Quarter
- Jul. 9 – New Moon
- Jul. 17 – First Quarter
- Jul. 23 – Full Moon
- Jul. 31 – Last Quarter
- Aug. 8 – New Moon
- Aug. 15 – First Quarter
- Aug. 22 – Full Moon
- Aug. 30 – Last Quarter
- Sep. 6 – New Moon
- Sep. 13 – First Quarter
- Sep. 20 – Full Moon
- (Source: timeanddate.com)
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 makes 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.
- Mercury will be in the morning for July and evening for August and September.
- Venus continues as the evening star. 1/2 degree from a dim Mars on Jul. 13 and the moon nearby on Aug. 10 and 11.
- Mars is an evening planet lost in the sunset. Of note, it will be 20 arcminutes from Mercury on Aug. 19.
- Jupiter is in opposition on Aug. 19 and dominates the summer evening sky.
- Saturn is in opposition on Aug. 2. Jupiter and Saturn will be near one-another all summer but the gap is increasing.
- Uranus (Aries) is mostly a morning planet for summer.
- Neptune (Aquarius) is mostly a morning planet for summer with its opposition on Sep. 14 making it an evening planet.
- Pluto (Sagittarius): Best time to view Pluto is on a moonless night throughout summer.
- Perseid Meteor Shower peaks Aug. 12/13
- Ref: https://www.skyatnightmagazine.com/advice/skills/astronomy-guide-viewing-planets-night-sky/ & https://theskylive.com/pluto-info