Monday, July 19, 2010

Night Sky

By Susan Thurn,
CNHM Director of Education

The “dog days” of summer are here! We refer to them as the hottest days of the year. These dog days are based on an ancient Greek belief that Sirius, also called the Dog Star, was responsible for the heat. Skywatchers of long ago actually thought that the heat from Sirius and the sun combined to produce hotter weather. Ancient Egyptians used the star as a “watchdog,” as Sirius appeared in the night sky right before the Nile River’s flooding season. There are several interesting events to watch for in the next week in the night sky as we enter this year’s dog days.

Right after sunset, be sure to check out the low western horizon to see the planets lined up, from left to right, Saturn, Mars, and Venus. Venus is so bright it is the second brightest object in the sky (next to the moon,) so look there first. Mars and Saturn are next to it, but they might be fainter. Each night, they seem to be getting closer and closer together, which is a line of sight effect, but still a fun race to watch in the night sky. A glimpse of Mercury can also be made down very low in the skyline, but a pair of binoculars might help to view it.

There are exciting stars and constellations to look for in our night sky. Look south in the night sky for a bright orange star called Antares that helps to identify the hook-shaped Scorpius, while just to the left, the brightest stars of Sagittarius form a teapot. The steam above the teapot’s spout is the Milky Way. Look in the eastern sky for the summer triangle. The brightest star shining in that direction is Vega. Deneb is the star on the lower left corner of the triangle and Altair is on its lower right.

The last night sky treats to watch for include the July 26 full moon, and the southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower peak that will occur July 28-29, producing 20 meteors per hour at their best. The best viewing of this meteor shower is in the east, after midnight, in the constellation Aquarius. Jupiter also begins rising in the east between 11:00 p.m. and midnight, and for those who are early risers, the brightest object in the southeast before dawn, is Jupiter.

Turn out the night lights in your home, and get outdoors with a telescope, binoculars, and a chair or blanket. Explore and wonder from your own back yard.

Nature Watch is brought to you by the Cable Natural History Museum. For 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and new exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M or on the web at to learn more about exhibits and programs.

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