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Longer nights mean better stargazing

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By Mike Lynch
Published:
  • To use this map, cut it out and attach it to a stiff backing. Hold it over your head and line up the compass points on the  mapís horizon to the actua...

    To use this map, cut it out and attach it to a stiff backing. Hold it over your head and line up the compass points on the mapís horizon to the actual direction youíre facing. Note that East and West on this map are not backwards. Also use a small flashlight and attach a red piece of cloth or red construction paper over the lens of the flashlight. You wonít lose your night vision when you look at this map in red light.

I love summer stargazing, but if you have an early morning wake-up call during the week like I do, you have to restrict your nights under the stars to the weekend. During most of the summer itís not really dark enough until well after 10 p.m., making it tough on early risers. Another problem with summer stargazing for everyone is humidity. It naturally tends to keep the skies a bit more on the hazy side and the added moisture in the air also intensifies the effects of light pollution. And then there are those wonderful hungry mosquitoes.
Those are just some of the reasons I love September stargazing. All of those nighttime nuisances start gradually going away. I would much rather wear a jacket instead of bug dope when Iím looking out into our universe. And I love what Iím seeing in the sky this time of year.
The summer constellations still dominate much of the Everett sky with the ďSummer TriangleĒ dazzling bright overhead as soon as evening twilight ends. Just find the three brightest stars you can see at the top of the celestial dome and thatís it. Itís one of the best tools for helping you navigate that part of the sky because the three stars you see, Vega, Altair and Deneb, are all the brightest stars in their respective constellations; Lyra the Harp, Aquila the Eagle and Cygnus the Swan, otherwise known as the Northern Cross. From those three constellations you can branch out with your eyes to find other surrounding fainter constellations like the delightful Delphinius the Dolphin.
In the low southern sky are two of my favorite star pictures, Sagittarius the Archer and Scorpius the Scorpion. As featured in Skywatch last week, Sagittarius is also known as the ďLittle TeapotĒ because thatís what it actually looks like. Sagittarius lies in the general direction in space of the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. To the right of the Little Teapot is Scorpius, a constellation that actually looks like a scorpion, but by this late in the summer much of the end of the tail is at or below the horizon.
In early September the bright planets Mars and Saturn are still close together in a nice celestial hug in the low southwest sky, just to the right of Scorpius. Theyíre the brightest star-like objects in that part of the sky. They start out the month only 5 to 6 degrees apart which is about half the width of your hand held at armís length.
By the end of the month Mars and Saturn will be even lower in the southwest sky at the end of evening twilight and weíll be much farther apart. By monthís end Mars will drift eastward among the stars and get into a nice embrace with Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius. That will be a nice show that Iíll feature in the coming weeks
In the northern heavens the Big Dipper is hanging by its handle in the northwest sky. The Big Dipper isnít actually a constellation, but outlines the derriŤre and tail of Ursa Major, the Great Bear of the night sky. Using the adjacent map and a little eyeball elbow grease you can also see the rest of the big bearís torso, head and at least two of his curved legs. As you continue to face north youíll see the fainter Little Dipper is standing on its handle, and at the end of the handle is the somewhat brighter star Polaris, also known as the North Star. The Little Dipper is also known as Ursa Minor the Little Bear. Polaris is at the end of the junior bearís tail. Every single celestial object visible in the sky appears to circle around Polaris since itís shining directly above the Earthís terrestrial North Pole.
Facing the east, look just below the bright W that outlines Cassiopeia the Queen and youíll see the first of the autumn constellations, Pegasus the Winged Horse. Just look for the ďGreat Square,Ē or the diamond of four brighter stars rising in the east that outline the torso of the flying horse. If you have a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, scan to the upper left of the great square of Pegasus and see if you can find what looks likes an oval-shaped fuzz ball. That patch of fuzz is actually the giant Andromeda Galaxy, the next-door neighbor of our own Milky Way Galaxy. If you wanted to make a weekend trip to Andromeda, youíd have to make a trip of well over two million light-years. With just one light-year equaling almost 6 trillion miles and the price of gas over $3.00 a gallon, you might want to just give that neighbor a distant wave!
Unfortunately this coming week and most of next week moonlight will challenge your stargazing a bit as Sept. 8 will have a full harvest moon. However all is not lost. Harvest moons can be a lot of fun. Iíll have more on that next week in Skywatch.
Send your astronomical questions to mikewlynch@comcast.net
The Everett Astronomical Society welcomes new members and puts on public star parties. Their website is: www.everettastro.org/
Story tags » Star Gazing

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