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Skywatchers, head to the country

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By Mike Lynch
Herald Columnist
The stargazing doldrums of late spring and early summer are definitely over with. We're entering prime time for summer stargazing.
There's a lot of great stuff in the Northwest night skies. Get out to the countryside, away from the city lights.
In the northern sky you'll see the Big Dipper hanging by its handle in the high northwest sky. The pot and handle of the Big Dipper are actually the rearend and tail of the constellation Ursa Major, which is Latin for "Big Bear."
See if you can spot a dimmer skinny triangle of stars to the lower right of the pot. That's the bear's head. To the lower right of the head and rearend hunt for two curved lines of stars that make up the legs.
Not far from the Big Dipper (and bear) is the fainter upside down Little Dipper. It has the lynchpin of the stars, Polaris, the North Star, at the end of its handle.
The North Star is certainly not the brightest star in the sky, but it's an important shiner: As the world turns on its axis every 24 hours, all of the stars make a counterclockwise circle around it.
It looks that way because the North Star shines directly above the North Pole.
Scattered around the stationary North Star are stars that are always above the horizon in the northern sky. These are called circumpolar constellations. Besides the Big and Little Bears, there are others like Cassiopeia and Cepheus, the king and queen respectively.
Cassiopeia, bright W, sits in the low northeastern sky. The W outlines the throne and red carpet of her majesty. Just above Cassiopeia, look for the faint house with a steep roof laying on its side. That's Cepheus the King.
In the eastern sky is the famous Summer Triangle, made up of three bright stars; Vega, Deneb and Altair. They are the brightest stars in that part of the sky and each of them are the brightest in their individual constellations.
Vega is the brightest star in Lyra the Harp; Deneb's the brightest in Cygnus the Swan, otherwise known as the Northern Cross; and Altair is the brightest shiner in Aquila the evil Eagle.
In the low southern skies are two of my favorite constellations, Scorpius the Scorpion and Sagittarius the Archer.
Scorpius is one of those semi-rare constellations that actually looks like what it's supposed to be, but Sagittarius is a constellation that doesn't look anything like what it's supposed to be.
If you can see the figure of a man with the legs and rearend of a horse shooting an arrow then you've got a much better imagination than I do.
Sagittarius actually looks much more like a teapot, and in fact that's how most amateur astronomers refer to it. The teapot is steaming with stars in its position atrthe center of our Milky Way Galaxy.
August is also the month for the Perseid meteor shower, the best of the year. Toward the end of next week we may see more than 50 meteors or shooting stars per hour.
This should be a great year for the Perseids because there will be very little or no moonlight to interfere with the show.
A couple of planets, Venus and Saturn, are hanging out in the early evening western skies this month. Both of them are showing up before the end of evening twilight.
Venus is by far the brightest. Saturn starts out the early evening in the low southwestern sky. Both will slip below the western horizon within a few hours of sunset.
Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of "Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations." Check his website,
The Everett Astronomical Society:

Instructions for sky map
Cut out the map and attach it to a stiff backing. Hold it over your head and line up the compass points on the map's horizon to the actual direction you're facing. East and West on this map are not backward. When you hold this map over your head, East and West will be in their proper positions. Attach a piece of red cloth or paper over the lens of a small flashlight so you don't lose your night vision when you look at this map in red light.
Story tags » Star Gazing

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