Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, August 19th and 20th, 2019

This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, August 19th and 20th, written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun now sets at 7:51 PM; night falls at 9:37. Dawn breaks at 4:20 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 6:07.

The giant planets Jupiter and Saturn continue their solitary presence in our evening sky. At Civil Dusk, Jupiter still inhabits the constellation Ophiuchus, blazing at minus 2nd magnitude and about 25º high in the South; it sets a half-hour after midnight. The planet is nearing the end of its appearance, so events on the planet become rare, due to its low altitude. On Monday evening, the moon Io begins its crossing the planet’s face at 9:49 PM; Io’s shadow follows at 11:10 PM. Io ends its trek at Tuesday Midnight, but the planet is only 4º high above the southwest horizon.

Saturn trails Jupiter by about 2 hours. At Civil Dusk, it shines in Sagittarius with zero magnitude, appears about 18 arc-seconds in size and is about 20º high in the South. It is highest, and best observed, at 10:06 PM; its famous rings are still worth observing about this time. Saturn sets at 2:39 AM.

Nightfall also reveals the Dwarf Planet 1Ceres, still in the head of Scorpius, glowing with 8th magnitude and appearing one half arc-second in size. 1Ceres sets at 11:48 PM.

Outer planet Neptune rises in Aquarius at 8:38 PM and is best observed at 2:19 AM, when it is 32º high in the South. It twinkles with 7th magnitude and appears a tiny 2 arc-seconds in size. Uranus rises in Aries about two hours after Neptune. It appears brighter and a bit larger than Neptune and is best observed at Dawn. Finder charts for 1Ceres, Uranus and Neptune are available from astronomy websites and magazines.

The 19-day-old Moon rises in Cetus at 10:06 PM, Monday. It displays an 81% disk, blazes with minus 11th magnitude and is highest at 4:22 AM. Tuesday finds it in Pisces, thinner and slightly dimmer, rising at 10:30 PM. The Moon lies approximately 7º below Uranus at about 4:20 AM, Wednesday.

The variable star Algol, in Perseus, reaches its minimum at 10:04 PM on Tuesday; however, it lies only 9º high above the eastern horizon, and may require an unobstructed horizon.

Midnight witnesses the rise of two star clusters: the Pleiades and the Hyades. The Pleiades rise first and resemble a mini dipper, while the Hyades, rising an hour later, form the head of Taurus, the Bull. In Greek myth, the Hyades and Pleiades are related, both daughters of Atlas and Aethra – both seven in number. The name Hyades derives either from the story of the sisters mourning the death of their brother Hyas, or from the Greek verb “to rain,” since the Hyades’ rise signaled the rainy season. They were placed in the sky as a reward for babysitting the infant god Bacchus. The Hyades is the second closest cluster to Earth, second to the Ursa Major cluster. It is about 400 million years old. This cluster is about 150 light-years away and part of the “Taurus Moving Cluster” of stars that are heading towards the star Betelgeuse. The bright star Aldebaran is not a member of this group, and actually midway between Earth and the Hyades.

Skywatch Line for Friday, August 16 through Sunday, August 18, 2019

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, August 16 through Sunday, August 18, written by Sam Salem.

On Friday, the Sun rises at 6:03am and sets at 7:57pm; the waning gibbous Moon rises at 8:53pm and sets at 6:52am.

Jupiter gleams, at magnitude –2.3, less than 7 degrees northeast of Antares, brightest star in the constellation Scorpius, the Scorpion. The giant planet is a little past its telescopic prime, but still capable of rewarding observers with impressive detail. To the east of Jupiter is 0.2-magnitude Saturn. The ringed planet culminates shortly before 10:30pm, when it sits due south. Saturn resides in eastern Sagittarius, just below the stars comprising the constellation’s Teaspoon asterism. Mercury is winding down its current, favorable dawn apparition. It shines at magnitude –0.7 and rises in the east-northeast 90 minutes before the Sun.

Evenings over this weekend are lit by the waning gibbous Moon, just days past full. However, you have the opportunity to observe Jupiter and Saturn. Catch Jupiter as early in the evening as possible, when the planet is highest and the chances for a steady a view are greatest. You can start observing shortly after sunset, when Jupiter is still roughly 24 degrees above the horizon. The planet’s subtle pastel-hued cloud belts appear most vivid when set against a blue, twilight sky. Follow the comings and goings of the planet’s four bright moons and pick out the two main cloud bands on the Jovian disk. Try to detect the Great Red Spot. The most favorable upcoming Red Spot transits occur on Friday night at 9:59pm, and Sunday evening at 8:38pm. The Jovian disk has shrunk, from its 44.8 arc-second maximum during opposition last June to its current 40.5 arc-seconds. But that’s still bigger than any other planet currently visible.

As August proceeds, the Great Square of Pegasus lifts up in the east, balancing on one corner. Its stars are only 2nd and 3rd magnitude. Late on Friday evening, the waning gibbous Moon rises below The Square of Pegasus. From the Square’s left corner extends the main line of the constellation Andromeda. Three stars, including the corner, about as bright as those forming the Square. The late Sky & Telescope columnist George Lovi named this whole giant pattern “the Andromegasus Dipper”. It’s shaped like a giant Little Dipper with an extra-big bowl. The actual Little Dipper, meanwhile, is tipping far over leftward in the north. It’s less than half as long as the “Andromegasus Dipper”, and most of it is much fainter. It’s oriented more than 90 degrees counterclockwise compared to Andromegasus.

Look for the faint constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer. Planet Jupiter helps you to locate this faint constellation. You’ll find the Serpent Bearer in the south to southwest on August and September evenings. The bright red star Antares sits nearby. Nobody ever claims Ophiuchus as a birth sign, despite the fact that the ecliptic runs across him just as it does the 12 better-known constellations of the zodiac. The zodiac, or “pathway of animals”, represents the narrow band of sky extending across the ecliptic, which is the plane of Earth’s orbit projected onto the sphere of stars. There are 12 familiar signs of the zodiac. Then there are the 13 constellations of the zodiac, which include Ophiuchus. The Sun moves in front of Ophiuchus from about November 30 to December 18 each year. Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, is depicted as holding Serpens, the Serpent, which is considered a separate constellation. You need a dark sky to find this constellation. With the Moon waning now, you’ll have one in the evenings ahead. Ophiuchus is faint, but you’ll easily recognize the constellation Scorpius nearby. Ophiuchus looms up above Scorpius.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, August 14th, and Thursday, August 15th, 2019

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, August 14th, and Thursday, August 15th, written by Louis Suarato.

Mercury rises in the northeast about 45 minutes before sunrise. Venus travels behind the Sun as it reaches superior conjunction at 2 a.m. Thursday. August’s Full Moon occurs at 8:29 Thursday morning. Mars is also too close to the Sun to be observable. Look to the southeastern and southwestern sky to see Saturn and Jupiter after evening twilight. The Full Moon, which rises at 8:27 Thursday night, impairs the viewing of deep sky objects, even with larger telescopes.

The Moon orbits Earth at the speed of 2,288 miles per hour, traveling a distance of 1,423,000 miles during that time. The Moon moves across the sky about a half degree per hour. In 24 hours, the Moon will move 13 degrees. The Moon completes anorbit around Earth in 27.3 days. The closer a planet is to the Sun, the faster it travels. Mercury, the closest planet, is also the fastest, moving at 107,082 miles per hour. Venus, the second closest planet, is the second fastest at 78,337 miles per hour. Earth travels at 66,615 miles per hour. Mars has an orbital speed of 53,858 miles per hour. Jupiter travels at 29,236 miles per hour. Saturn orbits the Sun at the speed of 21,675 miles per hour. The orbital speed of Uranus is 15,233 miles per hour. Neptune, the outermost plane,t, travels at 12,146 miles per hour.

The fastest known natural object in the solar system was a comet discovered on August 4, 2016 by NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). SOHO captured a comet being pulled into the Sun at 1.34 million miles per hor. This sungrazer comet, known to come from the Kreutz family of comets, originate from the outer solar system. Their orbits can take up to 800 years to complete. This comet was destroyed by the forces of the Sun.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, August 12th and 13th, 2019

This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, August 12th and 13th, written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 8:02 PM; night falls at 9:51. Dawn begins at 4:09 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 5:59.

The waxing Moon illuminates the evening sky. Monday’s 13-day-old Moon occupies Sagittarius, appears about 95% illuminated and blazing with minus 11th magnitude. Tuesday, it shifts to Capricornus and appears slightly larger and brighter. The Moon sets at 3:55 AM on Tuesday and at 4:53 AM on Wednesday.

Jupiter and Saturn remain the sole evening planets visible. Jupiter continues to occupy Ophiuchus, but has halted its westward movement and reverted to eastward. The giant planet shines with minus 2nd magnitude and appears about 41 arc-seconds in size. It is highest at Civil Dusk and sets at 12:58 AM. With its reign rapidly ending, now is the time for last looks. Telescopic observers can witness the Jovian moon Io’s shadow begin its trek across the planet’s face at 9:07 PM on Monday, followed by Io itself exiting Jupiter at 10:09 PM and finally the shadow exits at 11:19 PM.

Saturn still inhabits Sagittarius. If Sagittarius looks like a Teapot to you, then Saturn lies in its Teaspoon, to the upper left. Saturn glows with zero magnitude and appears about 18 arc-seconds in size. Even though it lies 19º high at 10:35 PM, it is at its highest for the night. Its famous rings are still ideally tilted for our enjoyment and are visible in binoculars and small telescopes. Saturn sets at 3:08 AM.

1Ceres, the Dwarf Planet, is still located in Scorpius’ head, shining with 8th magnitude and a tiny 0.5 arc-seconds. Like Jupiter, it, too, is heading eastward and no longer between the stars Graffias and Dschubba. Finder charts are available from online astronomy websites. It sets at 12:14 AM.

Neptune, in Aquarius, rises at 9:06 PM and is best observed at 2:47 AM. It shines with 8th magnitude and 2 arc-seconds in size. Uranus, in Aries, rises at 10:50 PM and is best observed during the pre-sunrise hours. Both planets remain up all night and also require finder charts, found in astronomy magazines and websites.

Mercury, in Cancer, experienced Inferior Conjunction, passing between Earth and the Sun, last month. It now rises at 4:26 AM and can be seen as a 53% disk, shines with minus zero magnitude and is about 7 arc-seconds in size. Binoculars are recommended to locate the elusive planet amid the pre-sunrise eastern horizon glare.

The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks on Monday/Tuesday night. However, the brilliant almost “full” Moon will wash out all but the brightest meteors. Best time to watch them will be after Moonset each night.

Another significant event occurs tomorrow morning. The bright star Sirius rises before the Sun. This was important in ancient Egypt. This occurrence took place before the annual Nile floods. These life-giving floods fertilized farm fields. Sirius is called the “Dog Star,” because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, the Large Dog. The moniker “Dog Star” goes back to ancient Mesopotamian cultures. The “Dog Star” also gives rise to the “Dog Days of Summer.” Ancients thought that the brilliant star added to the summer heat. Sirius is twenty-three times brighter than our Sun, but, at 8.6 light years distant, adds no additional heat.

Skywatch Line for Friday, August 9 through Sunday, August 11, 2019

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, August 9 through Sunday, August 11, written by Sam Salem.

On Friday, Sun rises at 5:55am and sets at 8:07pm; the waxing gibbous Moon rises at 3:46pm and sets at 12:50am. The waxing gibbous Moon has a close encounter with Jupiter on Friday night. The pairing will be tightest early in the evening. Since both objects are bright, you can begin looking shortly after sunset. On Sunday evening, the waxing gibbous Moon slowly drifts towards Saturn. At midnight, the lunar disk is positioned roughly 3 degrees to the lower right of the ringed planet.

Jupiter, at magnitude –2.4, is now positioned well past the meridian by the time twilight fades completely. The earlier in the evening you observe Jupiter, the better the views are likely to be. Saturn shines at magnitude 0.2 just below the bowl of the Sagittarius Teaspoon. This weekend, Saturn is positioned at its highest before 11pm. Early risers have a chance to view Mercury. The innermost planet is in the middle of one of its best morning apparitions of the year. Mercury, at zero magnitude, is at greatest elongation of 19 degrees west at dawn on Friday. The planet may be easier to see three or four days later when it’s very slightly higher and a touch brighter.

These moonlit weekend nights are good for enjoying Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon, and plenty of prominent double stars. One of the season’s prettiest is Albireo. This famous double star is easy to find. Situated in the constellation Cygnus, Albireo marks the foot of the Northern Cross. Albireo’s component stars are both reasonably bright, shining at magnitudes 3.4 and 4.7. You’ll have no trouble spotting them in any telescope, even in strong moonlight. The Albireo pair is an especially wonderful telescopic sight because of their contrasting colors. The bright primary is a lovely golden yellow, while its companion is a pale, icy blue. Yellow-orange stars tend to be relatively cool compared with bluish-white ones. Albireo looks best in small telescopes used at low power as it puts much space between those colorful components.

On Friday evening, watch the Sun rise over the Lunar Straight Wall. When the Sun illuminates the feature at an oblique angle, at about day 8 of the Moon’s orbit, the Lunar Straight Wall casts a wide shadow that gives it the appearance of a steep cliff. To locate the Straight Wall, or Rupes Recta, as it’s formally known in Latin, first look for the trio of large craters, Ptolemaeus, Alphonsus, and Arzachel, right in the center of the terminator, the line dividing light and shadow on the Moon’s surface. Just to the southwest of Arzachel is a large ruined crater flooded by lava from the Mare Nubium. The Straight Wall is a huge fault crossing this ghost crater. It is fascinating to watch the sunlight playing on these features as the Moon rotates. Use a Moon map to help you locate the Moon craters.

Saturday marks the 175th anniversary of Wilhelm Bessel’s prediction of existence of Sirus B, the dwarf companion to Sirius, the dog star. In 1718, English astronomer Edmond Halley discovered that stars have “proper motion” relative to one another. In 1844, more than 100 years after Halley’s finding, German astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel published a scientific note in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society describing how Sirius had been deviating from its predicted movement in the sky since 1755. Bessel hypothesized that an unseen companion star affected Sirius’ motion. Alvan Graham Clark, a U.S. astronomer and telescope maker, confirmed Bessel’s hypothesis in 1862, when the U.S. researchers spotted Sirius B through Clark’s newly developed great refractor telescope.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, August 7th, and Thursday, August 8th, 2019

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, August 7th, and Thursday, August 8th, written by Louis Suarato.

Wednesday, at 7:52 a.m., marks the midpoint of astronomical summer, halfway between the June solstice and the September equinox. Moonrise occurs at 1:25 p.m. Wednesday. Six minutes later, the First Quarter phase takes place. The Moon sets at 13 minutes past midnight, Thursday. One of the more popular theories as to how the Moon came to be is known as the Giant Impact Hypothesis. Earth, and other planets in the solar system were formed approximately 4..5 billion years ago. One hundred million years later, the Moon formed. The Great Impact Hypothesis suggests that another planet, known as Theia, collided with Earth, and the debris from the collision coalesced in Earth’s orbit to form the Moon. For this theory to be accurate, 60% of the Moon should contain compositional evidence of Theia. Lunar rock samples brought back from the Apollo 12, 15, and 17 missions, contain Earth’s unique oxygen isotope composition signature, but no evidence of a different combination that should have originated on Theia, casting doubt on the Great Impact Hypothesis.

Jupiter and Saturn follow the First Quarter Moon across the sky as the only easily visible planets in the night sky. Thursday, a fuller gibbous Moon moves closer to Jupiter at the head of Scorpius. Follow Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede cross the planet between 2:50 a.m. and 5:12 a.m. Thursday. Mercury is a day away from its greatest western elongation, 19 degrees from the Sun. Look for the innermost planet rising in the east-northeast at dawn. Binoculars should assist in seeing Mercury through the glow of sunrise.

With the Moon setting shortly after midnight, keep and eye out for early Perseid meteors. This meteor shower peaks overnight during August 12th and 13th, when the Moon is nearly full and in the sky most of the night. Although there will be fewer meteors than on the peak nights, the conditions will be better for viewing. Keep an eye toward Cassiopeia, high in the northeast, for the origin, or radiant, of the meteors.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, August 5th and 6th, 2019

This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, August 5th and 6th, written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 8:11 PM, night falls at 10:05. Dawn begins at 3:57 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 5:52.

The Moon occupies the constellation Virgo on both nights. Monday’s 6-day-old Moon is well up by Civil Dusk, about 42% illuminated, is about 25º high in the Southwest and sets at 11:14 PM. Tuesday’s Moon is more illuminated and higher; it sets at 11:44 PM.

Jupiter and Saturn remain the only visible evening planets. By Civil Dusk, Jupiter shines in Ophiuchus with minus 2nd magnitude, appears about 42 arc-seconds in size and is 25º high. It fades this month and also appears slightly smaller in our instruments. It is best observed at 8:51 PM and sets at 1:26 AM. Telescopic observers can see the Great Red Spot, a giant storm, at 11:23 PM on Tuesday; however, the planet will be about 15º high and our atmosphere may reduce the resolution of details.

Saturn still shines in Sagittarius with zero magnitude, and is 17º high. This month Saturn brightens slightly. Even though it passed Opposition last month, the Ringed Planet is still worthwhile observing. It is best observed at 11:04 PM and sets at 3:38 AM.

Neptune, in Aquarius, rises at 9:34 PM, shining with 7th magnitude and appearing 2 arc-seconds in size. It is best observed at 3:15 AM. Uranus rises in Aries at 11:22 PM, shines with 5th magnitude and is 3 arc-seconds in size.

Dwarf Planet 1Ceres is still found in the head of Scorpius. It shines with 8th magnitude, a tiny ½ arc-second in size. It is highest at 8:02 PM at 20º. 1Ceres sets at 12:48 AM. Sky watchers can find it between the stars Graffias and Dschubba.

Observers seeking Neptune, Uranus and 1Ceres can download finder charts from various online astronomy websites.

Midnight finds the constellation Perseus rising from the northeast. Perseus hosts the annual Perseid meteor shower, which peaks on August 12th. Meteors are bits of comets or asteroids that encounter Earth and burn up in our atmosphere. The Perseids originate from Comet Swift-Tuttle, discovered independently by two American astronomers. As a comet approaches the Sun, ices and gases evaporate and take tiny flakes with them. When Earth runs into Swift-Tuttle’s debris path, meteor shower is the result. The Moon sets shortly before midnight on both nights. Weather permitting, after Moonset and before Dawn is an ideal time to observe the Perseid shower. Simply take a lawn chair into a field, look South and enjoy. A blanket helps to ward off the evening chill. You will see bright meteors streaking across the sky, under ideal conditions at 50 per hour. If you backtrack their path, they seem to originate from the constellation Perseus. This is an effect of Earth’s entering the meteor stream; you see a similar result when driving through a snowstorm. In fact, Perseids appear earlier in the month, but at a reduced rate. If weather does not permit observing on Monday night, a diminished shower will still be visible Tuesday night.

Skywatch Line for Friday, August 2 through Sunday, August 4, 2019

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, August 2 through Sunday, August 4, written by Sam Salem.

On Friday, Sun rises at 5:48am and sets at 8:15pm; the waxing crescent Moon rises at 7:24am and sets at 9:40pm. Watch for the waxing crescent Moon to move past Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, the Maiden. The Moon will be below Spica on Sunday, closest to it on Monday, and above it on Tuesday. The Moon and Spica are fairly high up at nightfall, then follow the Sun beneath the horizon by around mid-evening. Look for it shortly after sunset.

Spica is one of four 1st-magnitude stars shining close to the ecliptic, which is the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun projected onto our sky. There are three other bright stars near the ecliptic. These are, Antares of the constellation Scorpius, Aldebaran of the constellation Taurus, and Regulus of the constellation Leo. The Moon and planets travel near the ecliptic in our sky. The Moon orbits Earth and the planets orbit the Sun on nearly the same plane that Earth orbits the Sun. Hence, the Moon in its monthly orbit around Earth always sweeps close to Spica every month and all the solar system planets always pass near Spica at certain points in their orbits. This year, Jupiter is found in the vicinity of star Antares. The ecliptic also shows you the Sun’s annual path in front of the constellations of the zodiac. The Sun swings by the planets and stars of the zodiac every year, and the Moon does likewise, but it does so every month.

Jupiter, at magnitude –2.4, culminates in fading twilight at roughly 9pm. Jupiter sets a few minutes after 1:30am. Saturn, at magnitude 0.1, sits due south shortly before midnight. Saturn’s ring system is a stunning sight even in small scopes. Look lower right of Saturn for the Sagittarius Teapot. Saturn sets a few minutes before 4am.

Evenings over this weekend are mostly free from moonlight and excellent for summer deep-sky observing. The treasures found within the rich Sagittarius Milky Way are approaching the meridian in the south after twilight fades. One of that region’s crown jewels is the magnificent Lagoon Nebula, M8. The Lagoon is one of those rare objects that looks good in binoculars and in telescopes. Under a dark sky, you can perceive M8 with the unaided eye. Appreciate the nebula in context, set against a luminous wash of Milky Way starlight, in 10×50 binoculars. A Wide-angle rich-field telescope reveals the main dark lane that separates the nebula’s east and west components and gives the Lagoon its name. A small scope will also show NGC6530, the pretty open cluster cocooned within the eastern portion of the nebula. Like most emission nebulas, M8 responds well to filters. Try using filters to highlight the nebula’s remarkable texture and contrast.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, July 31st, and Thursday, August 1st, 2019

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, July 31st, and Thursday, August 1st, written by Louis Suarato.

The 1% illuminated, waning crescent Moon sets at 8:16 p.m. Wednesday. The New Moon occurs at 11:12 p.m. later that night. Thursday night, use binoculars to find the 1% illuminated, waxing crescent Moon before it sets in the west-northwest at 9 o’clock. Saturn and Jupiter appear in the darkening sky at Civil Twilight, which begins at 8:49 p.m. when the Sun is 6 to 12 degrees below the horizon. Jupiter begins the night about 25 degrees over the southern horizon. At 11:12 p.m., Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede, begins its transit across the face of the planet. The transit ends at 1:32 a.m. Thursday. Ganymede’s shadow will begin to transit at 3:25 Thursday morning. Saturn appears about 20 degrees above the south-southeastern horizon after 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

Saturn follows the asterism in Sagittarius, known as the Teapot, across the sky. The area above the Teapot that appears to be steam is the Milky Way, a view toward the center of the galaxy. This area of the sky is host to a number of Messier and other deep sky objects. Globular clusters located to the northeast of this asterism include M69, M70, and M54. M54 is the first globular cluster to be discovered beyond the Milky Way. Open cluster M25, and globular clusters M22 and M28, can be found above the top of the Teapot. The Butterfly Cluster (M6), and the Ptolemy Cluster (M7), can be found to the right of the Teapot in the constellation Scorpius. The Omega Nebula (M17) and the Trifid Nebula (M20) are also located in the “steam” of the Teapot. Other Messier objects in Sagittarius include open star clusters M18, M21, and M23. The Teapot climbs to its highest point at 10 p.m. on August 1st.

Skywatch Line for Friday, July 26 through Sunday, July 28, 2019

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, July 26 through Sunday, July 28, written by Sam Salem.

On Friday, Sun rises at 5:41am and sets at 8:23pm; the waning crescent Moon rises at 12:56am and sets at 3:04pm.

If you do get up early on Saturday or Sunday, you can see the waning crescent moon moving through Taurus. And you might catch some Delta Aquariid meteor shower as well. On Sunday, South Delta Aquariid meteor peaks during the predawn hours. The Delta Aquariid is a long, rambling meteor shower, stretching out for weeks beyond their nominal peak. Because the peak itself isn’t very definite, the shower might be even better at the month’s end, around the time of new Moon. With no Moon at all in late July/early August, this could be the best time to watch for these rather faint meteors. You may see as many as 10 to 15 meteors per hour in a dark sky. Although this shower is visible from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, it tends to favor the more southerly latitudes. This shower recurs annually in late July, because the Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet 96P/Machholz at this time of year. The stream of debris left behind by this comet smashes into the Earth’s upper atmosphere to burn up in our sky as Delta Aquariid meteors.

At the end of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion’s graceful J-shaped pattern of stars, you’ll find Shaula and Lesath. Shaula is the star on the left. Shaula is also the brighter of the two stars. These two noticeable stars are sometimes referred to as the Stinger of Scorpius, and sometimes the Cat’s Eyes. Shaula is the second-brightest in the constellation Scorpius, after Antares. As seen from our mid-northern latitudes, Lesath and Shaula never climb very high into the sky. They are higher in the sky as seen from the southern U.S., where the Scorpion becomes a glorious sight. On a dark, moonless night, you can see a glowing band of stars running from the Scorpion’s Tail and upward through the Summer Triangle. This is the edgewise view of our galaxy’s flat disk. The “haze” is the combined light of millions of stars. The galactic equator runs through Scorpius and also its neighboring constellation to the east, Sagittarius the Archer. The ecliptic is our Sun’s annual path in front of the background stars, and it also runs through Scorpius and Sagittarius.

Look for a gorgeous pair of star clusters near the Tail of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. They are M6, Butterfly Cluster, and M7, Ptolemy’s Cluster. To appreciate them, you need a dark sky and binoculars to enhance the view. These two star clusters are easy to spot in a dark sky near the curved Tail of the constellation Scorpius. Draw an imagainary line from the star Lesath through the star Shaula to find M7, which is the brighter and larger of the two star clusters. From M7, M6 is only a short hop away. In fact, the two clusters are close enough together to snuggle within the same binocular field of view.
M6 and M7 reside near the galactic equator, the region on the sky’s dome where star clusters, star clouds and nebulae most abound.