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August: riches of the summer Milky Way: if you normally live under light pollution, an unspoiled natural sky will be a revelation.

FOR MONTHS NOW, the giant Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair, and Deneb has been ascending the evening sky in the east. All that time Vega, the brightest of the three, has been the highest. Now Vega is nearly at the zenith (the overhead point), the center of our all-sky map.

And running across the Summer Triangle is the biggest "deep-sky object" of all, the Milky Way. Inside the Triangle is an extra-rich Milky Way section, the Cygnus Star Cloud. It runs from Deneb toward the south.

Look about halfway down the sky southward from there, and if your sky is dark and clear you should see with the naked eye a large, roundish cloud of extra-bright Milky Way glow. That's the Scutum Star Cloud. In front of it is M11, as fine an open star cluster as exists anywhere in the heavens. A small telescope shows the cluster's roughly triangular shape, with a bright star at the apex and many other stars set against a milky glow. A larger amateur telescope breaks the glow into hundreds of sparkling points.


Way down to the lower right from the Scutum Star Cloud, the Milky Way widens as it washes the west side of the Teapot pattern of Sagittarius, as seen in the photo below. Just off the Teapot's spout, like a puff of steam, is the Large Sagittarius Star Cloud (the brightest part of the photo). It's so bright because it's nearly in the direction to the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.

Just above the star cloud glows the Lagoon Nebula, M8, the summer sky's answer to the Great Orion Nebula of winter. It's plain to the naked eye in a dark sky. In photographs (like this one) it usually shows pink, but to the eye in a telescope it's gray with perhaps a hint of green. Nebula colors are weird that way.



Upper left of M8 is a small but rich Milky Way star cloud that received its own Messier number, M24. It's about halfway back up to the Scutum Star Cloud.


Left and right of M24 are the open star clusters M25 and M23, both nice binocular targets.

Compare the photo to how the top of Sagittarius appears on our all-sky chart, low in the south. And use the photo to hunt out as many of these deep-sky sights as you can. To give you the scale you need, the triangular top of the Teapot is 6[degrees] wide: just about the width of the view in a typical finderscope or pair of binoculars.

Planets in August

Mercury may be visible very low in the east shortly before sunrise in the last few days of August.

Venus is hidden in the glare of the Sun.

Mars, crossing Gemini, is well up in the east before dawn.

Jupiter, in Aries, rises around 11 p.m., shines brightly in the east after midnight, and stands very high in the south by the beginning of dawn.

Saturn is visible in evening twilight, but it's sinking lower in the west-southwest every week. Look for it far below Arcturus. Spica twinkles to its left.


New Moon            5
First Quarter      13
Full Moon          21
Last Quarter       28
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Date:Jan 1, 2011
Previous Article:July: summer heroes and monsters: the scorpion, serpent, and dragon twine among two huge men.
Next Article:September: transition at the top of the sky: when summer turns to fall, Deneb takes over from Vega as the zenith star at dusk.

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