Saturday, July 11, 2020

Southern Skies – The Celestial Teapot

Southern view 9:00 PM September 24

Southern view 9:00 PM September 24

Tonight is one of our last chances to say goodbye to some summer stars before they dip below the horizon for the season. Turn your back to the North Star and face south. About 30 degrees above the horizon floats Sagittarius. A number of roughly equally bright stars form a teapot asterism which at this time of the night seems ready to start pouring. Sagittarius is in the Milky Way – the thick stream of stars that flows like mist across the sky. The Milky Way can be almost impossible to see under city lights, particularly on a night like tonight when the moon is nearly full. But if you point your binoculars to this region of the sky you will see innumerable stars. Also here tonight is the asteroid Ceres; invisible to the eye, it is possible to spot it with binoculars. It’s not really easy to see tonight, though, as it’s lost in the Milky Way.

Southwest of Sagittarius, getting closer to the murky horizon is the bright red star Antares, part of the constellation Scorpius. (The astrologers refer to this constellation as Scorpio.) Now, when it is said that a star is red, like Antares, it doesn’t mean it is red like a stoplight; it means there’s more of a reddish tint to the light. Once you know what to look for you can spot the color at once. Antares is one of only two red super-giants easily visible to the naked eye.

Take your time and sweep both constellations with your binoculars; there are many beautiful star clusters in this region that glitter like tiny jewels. It’s tough with the full Moon out tonight, but do you see any fuzzy spots near Antares and the top of the teapot’s lid? These are a special kind of star cluster known as Globular Clusters. They can contain perhaps 50,000 stars. Using a very large telescope, it is possible to see them all at once, or at least it seems that way. There are a handful of Globular Clusters that are visible to the naked eye (as fuzzy spots), but not in this region of the sky.

 Michael Usher is Vice President of the Everglades Astronomical Society which meets on the second Tuesday of the month at 7:00 PM at the Norris Center, Cambier Park, Naples.

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