Last year I wrote a Binocular Highlights article in April. Springtime nights are wonderful, and the sky is in transition from winter sights to summer sights.
Well, it’s over a year later, a challenging year for many, and it’s SUMMERTIME, SUMMERTIME! The summer night sky, especially the Milky Way, is a wonderland for observing with binoculars, while summer nights are not as comfortable as springtime nights.
Go and find those binoculars, and if necessary, clean them – carefully. Let’s go on a little tour.
I do not have graphics to show you the sky, so I suggest downloading (if you haven’t already) one of the many FREE night sky apps for your phone. That will be a big help.
We’ll focus on the SOUTHERN SKY, yes, the mother-lode of binocular objects, in Scorpius, Ophiuchus, Serpens, and Sagittarius.
Begin with Antares, the bright orange alpha star at the heart of Scorpius. In binoculars it is brilliant. A little to it’s west you will see a faint smudge. Keep looking, maybe move the binoculars back and forth a little, it will show up. That is M4, a globular cluster containing hundreds of thousands of stars. It is 7,200 light years distant, the closest globular to us.
Moving east-southeast from Antares for about 5 degrees and you run into another globular cluster, M19 in Ophiuchus. Even though it is a little dimmer than M4, it might appear brighter because it isn’t competing with a bright star.
Moving east from M19 into Sagittarius, we hit the heart of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. As you move east you will bump into a couple of pretty nebulae and an open cluster to boot, all in the same field! From bottom there’s M8 (the Lagoon Nebula), above it is M20 (the Trifid Nebula), and just at the upper left (northeast) of M20 is open cluster M21.
Moving a few degrees north from M21 you will encounter another open cluster, M23. About 4 degrees northeast from M23 and you hit M16 (the Eagle Nebula) in Serpens. You might not see the nebula but it’s a star forming nebula and has an open cluster of stars visible. It is also famous for the Hubble image named “Pillars of Creation.” A few degrees south of M16, back in Sagittarius, lies M17 (the Omega/Swan Nebula). Drop about 4 degrees southeast from M17 and open cluster M25 shows up. Now moving south another 5 degrees and Elliptical Globular Cluster M22 pops into view. While it is a bright cluster, its location near the galactic bulge region, with all the intervening dust, makes it appear dimmer.
Just think about it, as you are looking at Sagittarius you’re looking toward our Galaxy’s center.
What’s in the Sky?
July 6-8; 30 minutes before sunrise; east-northeast: A waning crescent Moon meets up with the Pleiades & Aldebaran on the 6th, Aldebaran and Mercury on the 7th, and Mercury on the 8th.