The Sky This Week : August 27 thru September 3, 2013 !

The Sky This Week, 2013 August 27 – September 3
Tour our glorious Galaxy!

Messier 11, the “Wild Duck” cluster

Imaged 2013 August 5 at Fishers Island, NY with a 3.1-inch (80mm) f/6
Antares Sentinel refractor and a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR.

This cluster lies in front of one of the densest star-clouds of the Milky Way.

The dark patches are cold molecular clouds that obscure the light of
more distant stars behind them.

The cluster gets its popular name from its description by the 19th
Century British amateur astronomer Admiral William H. Smyth, who
described it in his 1844 “Bedford Catalog” as “resembling a flock
of wild ducks in flight.”

The Moon wanes in the morning sky this week, greeting early risers as she courses through the stars of early winter. Last Quarter occurs on the 28th at 5:35 am Eastern daylight Time. It’s a busy week for Luna as she starts her travels between the bright star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster on the morning of the 28th. She then encounters bright Jupiter on the morning of the 31st. The next morning finds her located between the bright stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini and Procyon, lead star of Canis Minor, the Lesser Dog. Labor Day morning finds her six degrees south of ruddy Mars in the gathering morning twilight.

The Moon’s absence over the coming holiday weekend means that many of us will be visiting the beach or the mountains for a final summer weekend. If this is the case for you take some time, weather permitting, to spend an evening under the summer stars. If you didn’t catch the splendor of the summer Milky Way earlier in the season you’ve still got time to enjoy it now. The rippling star clouds of our home galaxy split the evening sky from northeast to southwest by the end of evening twilight, and you’ll have several hours to explore its many treasures with binoculars or a small telescope. On my recent vacation I had several clear, moonless nights to re-acquaint myself with the sky’s largest “deep-sky” feature, exploring it with binoculars, a 3-inch “rich-field” telescope, and my 9.25-inch aperture Schmidt-Cassegrain instrument. The view through each instrument had its own special rewards. In binoculars the fuzzy band of the galaxy begins to break up into waves of stars overlying a misty background. Here and there bright knots appeared where star clusters or bright gaseous nebulae beckoned for a closer look. The small scope showed these in the context of the deeper clouds of background stars, which begin to resolve into innumerable points of light. Finally, the big telescope resolved the clusters into hundreds of stars and revealed delicate structure in the wisps of gas and dust in the nebulae. If I had to choose one object that gives great views under each condition it would be Messier 11, a star cluster located about 20 degrees southwest of the bright star Altair. In binoculars M11 is a bright hazy patch of light set on one side of a chevron-shaped asterism. In the rich-field telescope it resolves into a tight clump of stars set against the background of a dense patch of the Milky Way known as the Scutum Star Cloud. Finally, in the big scope it resolves into hundreds of densely-packed stars that seem to “follow” a single bright reddish star across a background of thousands of fainter ones. You can easily get lost in the vastness of space when you spend some quality time under the Milky Way’s glow.

If you’re out before the end of twilight waiting for the Milky Way to appear, Venus and Saturn are there to entertain you. Venus shines brightly in the hour after sunset in the southwest. If you have binoculars you can watch her progress from night to night as she travels eastward along the ecliptic. By the end of the week she will be closing in on the bright star Spica. Venus will pass the bright star next week as she draws a bead on Saturn.

Saturn is now losing his cosmic footrace with the Sun and is now getting difficult to see against a dark sky. You should be able to sight him about half an hour after sunset, but if you want to try to catch a last good glimpse of him through the telescope you’ll have to observe him in twilight conditions. By the time the sky is fully dark he will be wallowing in turbulent air above the southwest horizon.

Jupiter is making headway toward the evening sky, but your best view of him will still be just before dawn. The giant planet should be very easy to find among the stars of Gemini, where he’ll spend the rest of the upcoming apparition. He will be placed very favorably for northern hemisphere observers this year, high on the ecliptic when he reaches opposition in January.

Ruddy Mars is also best seen just before dawn. This week the red planet drifts eastward through the dim constellation of Cancer, the Crab. If you have binoculars, watch him close in on the scattered group of stars known as the “Beehive”. He’ll cross the cluster next week as he continues his eastward march against the stars.


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