Take a grand tour of the Milky Way this month – with binoculars!
What's Up for July? Take a grand tour of the Milky Way--with binoculars!
Hello and welcome. I'm Jane Houston Jones from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
If you haven't been under a dark sky for a while, July's a great month to make a dark sky getaway. Many parks have astronomy programs at night and dark conditions necessary to show off the summer skies.
This month we're looking south at Sagittarius and Scorpius, which are separated by the core of our Milky Way galaxy. The brightest stars in Sagittarius look just like a teapot, complete with a nearby group of stars resembling a teaspoon. The center of our galaxy looks like hot steam spewing from the teapot's spout. Even with a pair of binoculars, you'll find Milky Way star clusters and knots of nebulae. Just aim at the brighter, clumpy areas.
Use binoculars to look for the globular cluster M22 just above and to the left of the teapot's lid. It's composed of about 83,000 stars and fills as much sky as the moon!
M8, the Lagoon Nebula, is a giant star-forming interstellar cloud faintly visible to the naked eye from mid-northern latitudes. Seen with binoculars, it appears as an oval cloud-like patch with a core. With a telescope, a star cluster formed from the material of the Lagoon Nebula itself is easy to see, appearing superimposed on it. You'll see a dark patch bisecting the two lobes. Like many nebulae, it appears pink in time-exposure color photos but is gray to the eye peering through binoculars or a telescope.
You will need a telescope to see B86, a pretty, dark nebula just above the teapot's spout. It's a shock to see a tiny patch so dark that the Milky Way is obscured.
Looking in the same direction, we can see two dwarf planets. Near Sagittarius this month is Pluto. That little teaspoon star shape near the teapot is where amateur astronomers can look for Pluto all month long. You'll need a medium-sized telescope and some experience, patience and a little weather luck to see Pluto, but do look in the direction of the dwarf planet and think of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft approaching and flying by it on July 14.
Another dwarf planet, Ceres, is at opposition not too far away from Pluto in the southern sky between Sagittarius and Capricornus. That's where NASA's Dawn spacecraft is orbiting right now!
You can learn more about New Horizons and Dawn and all of NASA's missions at: www.nasa.gov
That's all for this month. I'm Jane Houston Jones.