It’s officially summer on Tuesday, June 21st, at 4:14 AM CDT for those wanting to know. Summer solstice and its counterpart winter solstice in December are seasonal indicators of change. Change in the length of daylight hours/nighttime hours. They and their intermediaries the equinoxes form a set of progress markers for our Earth’s journey around the Sun, our very own star.

Winter skies tend to be crisp, clear, and dark – mostly due to less Milky Way in the sky (remember, all the individual stars we see are in the Milky Way). The summer sky is hazier, and somewhat brighter, mostly due to a more prominent Milky Way. The winter sky seems to be a little less populated.

It’s summertime and time for summer constellations and the beauty they have in store. Zodiacal constellations – Aquarius, Capricornus, Sagittarius, Scorpius, Libra, Virgo, Leo. Other headliners like Hercules, Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, Boötes, Ursa Major and Minor. The summertime sky is chock full of constellations and stuff to look at.

Let’s start with Polaris, the north star. Find the Big Dipper (part of Ursa Major). Then trace a line through the two outer stars of the cup so the line goes up and away from the cup. Keep tracing the line until you run into a bright star. It won’t be too far. You have found the north star, Polaris. Polaris is the end of the Little Dippers handle. The Little Dipper is part of Ursa Minor. If you can see Polaris, you know which way is north, and east and west and south.

Next let’s find the summer triangle, a pretty, and easy gem to spot. You might want to use a lounge chair or blanket to lie on. Face north. Nearly straight up is brilliant Vega in Lyra, the lyre. At about 4 o’clock from Vega you will see the bright star Deneb in Cygnus, the Northern Cross. At about 2 o’clock from Vega is the bright star Altair in Aquila, the eagle. The Summer Triangle is an asterism formed by stars from the three constellations. It will be with us all summer and into fall.

Next, a globular cluster or two. You will need binoculars for this.  Starting with Vega again, scan left until you are looking directly overhead, or until you see a smudgy spot directly overhead. This is globular cluster M92 in Hercules. From M92, slowly scan towards 11 o’clock and you should bump into M13, the great Hercules globular cluster. It should be brighter than M92.

Next week, more summertime sights.

What’s in the Sky?

This is early riser time. I mean an hour before sunrise early. Looking to the east and into the south there are at least 6 planets up. Four are easy naked eye and two (Uranus and Neptune) need binoculars or telescope. Venus, Uranus, Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, and Saturn. You might glimpse Mercury to the lower left of Venus just before sunrise. This line-up will continue for weeks.