Stream of Stars

Skywatcher’s Corner for August/Sept 2020
from J Awen Labow

‘Tis the season. The season of Leo, but no longer the season of the Lion!

As the Sun makes its way through the sign of Leo, we certainly have reason to celebrate the fiery, creative energy that beckons us to strive for radiant self-love, but as skywatchers, we must also acknowledge that this time of the year marks the descent of the Lion into the underworld – lost from sight until it reemerges in the morning sky in October. Instead, on these warm summer nights, so comfortable for stargazing, we must turn our eyes to other points of interest.

On these late Leo nights, the Scorpion, located in the sign of Sagittarius is found high in the Southern sky just after sunset, followed closely by the Archer constellation, forming quite a spectacle and an opportunity.

Especially now, around the New Moon, if you are able to find a dark location without light pollution, you won’t be able to miss the Milky Way as it passes through these two prominent constellations.

In fact, it is this part of the Milky Way passing in between the Archer and the Scorpion that is the brightest and, most easily visible part of this “river of stars.” Furthermore, it marks the exact point where the sun will be on the Winter solstice. This is the region of the sky known by the ancients as the Golden Gate, and aligned thus only at a great “turning of the ages!”

One of my favorite stars and also a personal star, Antares shines with a reddish, orange glow from the heart of the Scorpion. If you are at a low enough latitude here in the Northern hemisphere, you should be able to follow the path of its body down until it curly-q’s up into the distinctive scorpion tail and stinger.

The Archer constellation, to me, forms the shape of a teapot pouring out into the center of the Milky Way! Another way to imagine this grouping of stars is as an archer drawing his/her bow back and aiming it towards the heart of the Milky Way.

If we follow the Milky Way up towards the North, high in the sky overhead we find the stars forming a prominent configuration known as the Summer Triangle. All of similar brightness, two of them – Altair and Deneb are located within the Milky Way and the third, Vega stands alone in the constellation Lyra.

Also worth noting this “moonth” is the position of the visible planets. We’ve all heard a great deal about the triple conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto in Capricorn, and right now is the easiest time to spot the two players in this trio that are visible to the naked eye; Jupiter and Saturn. They are two of the brightest objects in the sky after sunset, and they reach their highest point in the sky around 10pm. Jupiter is the brighter one to the right of Saturn.

Jupiter and Saturn are currently only about 8 degrees apart, giving us a great opportunity to test out our trusty skywatching tool – the extended arm and fist. That is, from one side to the other, your own fist at your own arm’s length should give you a measurement of 10 degrees on the sky’s dome. Test it out on the 8 degree span between these two bright luminaries, and see how accurate your tool is!

One last thing to note on the cluster of planets in Capricorn this month is that Pluto, although invisible to our eyes, is currently situated directly between Jupiter and Saturn, about 4˚ from each. This is just yet another reason to spend some time watching this spectacle unfold.

Both Jupiter and Saturn are stationing direct in September, so there will be very little change in their configuration before the next new moon. Get this alignment emblazoned in your memory before they slingshot back forward and head toward their meeting in December!

If you have a low horizon, or you are willing to stay up late, Mars will be that beautiful reddish luminary just rising in the East around 10pm. As it is currently making its way through a very dimly lit part of the sky, it shouldn’t be hard to miss! For those who prefer to wake up early, Mars will still be visible before sunrise, along with Venus, rising in the East.

These two are approaching an exact square (90˚ apart) in September, so their relative positions in the sky are definitely a sight worth getting up to see and take note of!

Hopefully these tips will excite you to continue expanding your stargazing repertoire and help you deepen your connection to the sky above!

Wishing you many blessings and starry skies!
Awen

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