Begin your day with a summer star show

  • Saturday, July 14, 2012 10:51pm
  • Life

This time of year the nights are shorter, it’s possible to pull an all-night star party.

Get out in the country under those superior darker skies. There’s much to see through the course of the night as you watch constellations and their stellar treasures drift west in the same way the sun does during the day.

One of the true treasures in the celestial dome is the Milky Way Band that arcs across the sky from the northern horizon to the overhead zenith and down to southern horizon. Every star you see in our skies is part of our spiral-disk-shaped Milky Way.

Our sun and maybe up to a half-trillion other stars are part of the galactic family, but when you see that milky white band of stars you’re peering into the plane of the Milky Way disk.

That’s where most of the stars reside, some as far as 70,000 to 80,000 thousand light-years away.

Most folks do their stargazing in the early evening after twilight ends, but sometimes the coolest stuff going on is actually is in the last hour or two before sunrise. That’s certainly the case for the next several mornings.

For several weeks now the bright planets Jupiter and Venus have been putting on a nice show in low eastern sky mainly between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. They’re without a doubt the brightest objects in that part of the sky.

Venus is the brighter than Jupiter and shines below the largest planet in our solar system. Both planets are intriguing through even smaller telescopes.

With Jupiter you can clearly see the disc of the planet that now lies about 520 million miles from Earth. If conditions are good enough you might even see some of Jupiter’s cloud bands that stripe the planet.

For sure you can see up to four of its larger moons that appear as tiny little “stars” either side of Jupiter as they orbit the big guy.

Venus right now looks like a tiny crescent moon. Because Venus lies between Earth and the sun, it goes through shape changes just like our moon. You may even see the crescent Venus with the naked eye.

The moon is a thin waning crescent right now too. On Monday morning it’ll be to the lower left of Venus and Jupiter and a little thinner.

Also between Jupiter and Venus you’ll see a formation of stars that forms an arrow pointing to the right. That’s the main part of the constellation Taurus the Bull that we can see in the evening skies during the fall and winter.

The arrow allegedly outlines the face of the celestial bull.

Shining above Venus and Jupiter and our moon is one of the true treasures of the night sky. It’s the Pleiades Star Cluster that to the naked eye looks like a tiny little Big Dipper.

Some folks can see seven stars with the naked eye, but gazers mostly see six stars. Through even a pair of binoculars though you can see many more.

Astronomically the Pleiades are group of young stars all born together about a 100 million years ago that are a little more than 400 light-years away or about 2,400 trillion miles from our backyards.

The Pleiades are also known as the “Seven Little Sisters.” According mythology they represents the seven daughters of the god Atlas who was forced to hold up the entire world on his shoulders when he was thrown out of power by the Greek god Zeus. The seven little sisters are said to be crying for their father.

Enjoy the early morning celestial show this week. I guarantee it’s a great way to start the day, even if you need a little catnap in the afternoon.

Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of the book, “Washington Starwatch,” available at bookstores. Check his website, www.lynchandthestars.com.

The Everett Astronomical Society: www.everettastro.org/.

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