This is the time of year when Sagittarius reigns supreme. It’s a little low now but getting better each day.
Sagittarius is busting with things to look at. Our Milky Way galaxy verily pours out of Sagittarius’s teacup spout as its steam wafts up and away.
What about the teacup? Like the big dipper in Ursa Major, the teacup in Sagittarius is an asterism, a recognizable pattern made by a group of stars. An asterism is not a constellation but can be part of a constellation. The teacup of Sagittarius is nearly as easy to spot as the big dipper. The limiting factor(s) will be if you have tall trees nearby to your southeast and south, or bad light pollution (BOO!).
Let’s find Sagittarius and look at its bounty. You only need binoculars to see them. A spotting scope or telescope will bring out more detail.
Go out after 9pm, 10pm is better. Look to the south-southeast. We’ll use Scorpius to help find the teapot of Sagittarius. Scorpius should be up and easy to spot. Its heart, Antares, glows a bright orange. Follow the scorpion’s body down from Antares to its up-curving tail. Just to the left of the scorpion’s tale is the teapot of Sagittarius. The teapot is tilted upward a little. On the right side is the spout, left side is the handle, and a triangle of stars on top making its lid.
Starting at the teapot’s base, there are four globular clusters, but they are dim and faint. Give them a try if you dare. From the handle going to the right, they are M54, M70, NGC 6652, and M69.
OK, that was a challenge so let’s get to the main event and that’s located starting just above the teapot’s lid and going higher. For a graphic to help, search online for Sagittarius constellation and pick the Wikipedia version. Wikipedia has a nice star chart of Sagittarius, from Sky & Telescope magazine.
Just above the teapot are globular clusters M22 and M28. To their upper right are beautiful nebulae M8 (the Lagoon) and just above it M20 (the Trifid) – both are star factories and harbor bright points of light (young stars), just like the great Orion nebula M42. To their upper left is a broad patch of light called the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud, or M24. Just below M24 is an open cluster named the Wild Duck. Can you make out its V shape, like wild ducks flying in formation? Above the Small Sagittarius Cloud are M18 and M17. M18 is an open cluster called the Black Swan and M17 is called the Omega Nebula.
These are just highlights, and yes, they look dim. Hey, they are incredibly far away! Think about it.
What’s in the Sky?
Showtime continues in the pre-dawn sky with a planetary line-up. Set your alarm for 5:30am and check it out at least once. It won’t be back until 2040.