Stargazing in the summer comfort zone

  • By Mike Lynch
  • Thursday, June 26, 2014 3:32pm
  • Life

The stars and constellations of summer are now well out of their winter slumber over Everett and they’re waiting for you to enjoy them on a warm clear July evening. Don’t let mosquitoes spoil your nocturnal fun though. Have the bug repellant at the ready. As I’ve told you before though, in most cases the bugs start backing off about an hour after sunset. By 11 p.m. most nights their bedtime feeding time has pretty much ended and they tuck themselves into the swamp or wherever they call home.

The planets Saturn and Mars are still putting on a show in the lower portions of the south-southwestern sky after evening twilight fades. Mars is the brighter of the two but I guarantee you’ll have more fun viewing Saturn.

Mars is about 93 million miles away, which is the same distance nbetween the Earth and the sun. It shows off its reddish hue even to the naked eye, but as close and bright as it is, Mars is pretty dull through most telescopes. It’s hard to see much in the way of features because Mars is a lot smaller than the Earth with just over half of our world’s diameter.

The mountains, volcanoes, and valleys show up as dark splotches at best. You may see a whitish fringe toward the bottom of the tiny disk of Mars. That’s the north polar cap. The polar cap is at the bottom of the disk if your telescope gives you an upside down reverse image as most telescopes do.

Saturn is much more fun to take your telescope to. Even though it’s more than 750 million miles farther away than Mars it’s much larger. In fact, it’s calling card ring system is more than 150,000 miles in diameter, about 35 times bigger than the diameter of Mars. When you set your scope on Saturn, even a smaller scope, you should be able to clearly see the ring system of Saturn and some of its moons that look like tiny little stars swarming the planet. You’ll love, love, love Saturn. By the way, both Mars and Saturn will be visited by the first quarter half to oval-ish moon as the week goes on. Just check the diagram of these celestial huggings on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/mike.lynch.12327.

In the eastern heavens you’ll see the prime stars of summer on the rise. The best way to find your way around the summer stars is to locate the “Summer Triangle” made up of three bright stars, the brightest in each of their respective constellations. You can’t miss them. They’re the brightest stars in the east right now.

The highest and brightest star is Vega, the bright star in a small faint constellation called Lyra the Harp. The second brightest star on the lower right of the triangle is Altair, the brightest in Aquila the Eagle. Altair is on the corner of a diamond that outlines the wingspan of the great bird. The third brightest star, found at the left corner of the summer triangle, is Deneb, more than 1500 light-years away. It’s also the brightest star in the tail of Cygnus the Swan. Cygnus is also known as the “Northern Cross” because that’s what it really looks like. Deneb is at the head of the Northern Cross, presently laying on its side as it rises in the east.

In the north, look for the Big Dipper hanging from its handle in the northwestern sky, and the fainter Little Dipper standing on its handle with Polaris, the North Star at the end of the handle.

Every single thing in the sky, including the sun and moon, appear to revolve around Polaris every 24 hours.

In the low southern sky there’s a bright brick red star called Antares that marks the heart of Scorpio the Scorpion, one of those few constellations that actually resembles what it’s supposed to be.

Happy Fourth of July!!

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