Longer nights mean better stargazing

  • By Mike Lynch
  • Thursday, August 28, 2014 10:58am
  • Life

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 it’s 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 I’m looking out into our universe. And I love what I’m seeing in the sky this time of year.

The summer constellations still dominate much of the Everett sky with the “Summer Triangle” 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 that’s it. It’s 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 “Little Teapot” because that’s 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. They’re 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 arm’s 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 we’ll be much farther apart. By month’s 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 I’ll feature in the coming weeks

In the northern heavens the Big Dipper is hanging by its handle in the northwest sky. The Big Dipper isn’t actually a constellation, but outlines the derrière 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 bear’s torso, head and at least two of his curved legs. As you continue to face north you’ll 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 bear’s tail. Every single celestial object visible in the sky appears to circle around Polaris since it’s shining directly above the Earth’s terrestrial North Pole.

Facing the east, look just below the bright W that outlines Cassiopeia the Queen and you’ll see the first of the autumn constellations, Pegasus the Winged Horse. Just look for the “Great Square,” 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, you’d 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. I’ll 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/

More in Life

‘Last Jedi’ is the best ‘Star Wars’ movie since the first one

This instant-classic popcorn movie makes clever references to the past while embracing the new.

‘The Shape of Water’: 1950s creature feature meets 2017 allegory

Director Guillermo del Toro’s allegory bears his fetishes for monsters and surrealistic environments.

‘Ferdinand’ a modern take on the beloved children’s story

The lovable bull is back in an enjoyable but spotty animated film from the makers of “Ice Age.”

Art mimicks reality in engrosing ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’

The Korean film tells the story of an actress recovering from an affair with a married director.

Everett’s Michael ‘Scooby’ Silva is the leader of the (dog) pack

Since 2012, he’s built a thriving business walking dogs while their owners are at work.

Student winners to perform concertos with Mukilteo orchestra

This annual show is a partnership with the Snohomish County Music Teachers Association.

Red wine usually costs more, but you can still find bargains

Here are five good-quality reds that won’t drain your grocery budget.

Beer of the Week: Skull Splitter and Blood of My Enemies

Aesir Meadery of Everett and Whiskey Ridge Brewing of Arlington collaborated to make two braggots.

Booze notebook: Scrappy Punk marks first year in Snohomish

The latest on Snohomish County’s breweries, wineries and distilleries.

Most Read