One of the best guideposts in the summer sky is “The Summer Triangle,” a large triangle of three bright stars almost directly overhead. Vega, Deneb and Altair each represent the “alpha” bright star in their own constellations but they are also among the brightest stars in the summer skies. The rule of thumb for scanning among the stars is to “start with something easy!” From these bright stars it becomes much simpler to jump from one star to the next and, with the aid of a simple star map, trace out star patterns and constellations. This technique is popularly known as “star hopping.”
In and around the Summer Triangle are many constellations that represent animals of various kinds, which has led to another label called “The Barnyard” portion of the sky. These can be fun for retracing sky mythology but they can also serve as pointers to many of the summer’s best deep sky objects. Some can be seen with the unaided eye, and many with binoculars.
From the Summer Triangle we’ll do some star hopping to locate other constellations and deep sky wonders like star clusters and nebulae, such as the “Lagoon Nebula” in Sagittarius. The Milky Way runs right through the Summer Triangle and stretches south to Sagittarius and Scorpius, providing another wonder of the summer sky.
The annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaks on the nights of August 11-12. Unfortunately the Waning Gibbous Moon will wash out most of the show but you should be able to see some of the brighter meteors. Yellow colored streaks emanating from the northeast will be telltale signs of the Perseids. The brighter ones (called Fireballs) can leave orange colored vapor trails that stay illuminated for up to a couple of seconds. The number of meteors increases after midnight but that’s also when the Waning Gibbous Moon will interfere the most.
Come and learn how to view some of the best deep sky objects of the summer. “Gateway” starts at 6:45 pm Saturday, August 2 in the Hansen Dome Theatre. admission for members is free and tickets for the general public are $2.