Summer sky objects you don't want to miss!

Posted by - S. Mallia on 2024 Jun 26th

Observing Mars and Saturn in the Pre-Dawn Sky

Just before and during early dawn, Mars and Saturn are visible and make for excellent viewing.

Saturn is the highest and easiest to spot in the southeast sky. It has a magnitude of 1.1 and is situated in the dim constellation of Aquarius. To help locate it, find the Great Square of Pegasus, which is about two fists (held at arm’s length) to the upper left of Saturn. Additionally, the star Fomalhaut can be seen sparkling two fists to Saturn's lower right.

Mars can be found far lower left of Saturn, around four or five fists at arm’s length. It appears almost due east with a magnitude of 1.9. About a fist above Mars, you'll find Alpha Arietis (Hamal), which has a magnitude of 2.0.

Jupiter is also coming into view, located almost three fists lower left of Mars. It shines at a brilliant magnitude of -2.0, visible through the horizon murk as dawn approaches.

Mercury, Venus, and Uranus are currently hidden in the Sun's glare.

For the more adventurous stargazers, Neptune can be found at magnitude 8 in the constellation Pisces. It's about 10° lower left of Saturn just before dawn. Viewing Neptune requires large binoculars or a telescope, a detailed finder chart to identify its location among similarly faint stars, and some skill in using sky charts with your binoculars or telescope.

The Summer Triangle

In June or July, as the sky darkens, look towards the east for a bright, blue-white star. This is Vega, part of the constellation Lyra. Vega is at the top of the Summer Triangle and is the brightest of its three stars, visible even in cities with lots of light pollution.

Next, look to the lower right of Vega to find the second brightest star in the triangle, Altair. Altair is the brightest star in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle. To estimate the distance between Vega and Altair, stretch out your thumb and pinky finger, in a hand ten or hang loose, also known as a shaka hand gesture — it will just about fill the gap.

Then, look to the lower left of Vega to spot Deneb, another bright star. Deneb is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan, and the third brightest in the Summer Triangle. The distance from Vega to Deneb can be roughly measured by holding your outstretched hand at arm’s length.

The Summer Triangle is large, but you’ll recognize it once you see it. These three bright stars—Vega, Deneb, and Altair—will soon become your favorite markers of summer nights.

The Crescent Nebula

Commonly known as the Crescent Nebula, Caldwell 27 resembles a prehistoric dinosaur egg. This emission nebula is located in the constellation Cygnus, the aka the Swan. It is a shell of gas energized by the powerful stellar wind from the Wolf-Rayet star WR 136, the bright star at its center. It lies in a dense field of the Milky Way and is one of several notable deep sky objects in the area of the Northern Cross.

The Elephant Trunk Nebula

The Elephant’s Trunk Nebula is a dense region of dust and gas located within the larger star-forming region IC 1396 in the constellation Cepheus. Known as IC 1396A, this elongated globule was named the Elephant’s Trunk because it resembles an elephant’s head and trunk at visible wavelengths, appearing as a dark patch with a bright winding rim. It is situated approximately 2,400 light years from Earth.

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