Are you looking forward to the summer night sky? Whether you are planning a camping trip, live nearby the beach or enjoy going stargazing, the night sky has a lot to offer.
Perhaps, one of the most recognisable objects in the summer night sky is the Summer Triangle and it definitely steals the show for me. Seeing the Swan flying through the Milky Way, as if it’s bringing our galaxy to life for a couple of hours each night, is truly magical.
The asterism is composed of the stars Altair, Vega and Deneb – the brightest stars in the constellations Aquila, Lyra, and Cygnus. So let’s dive in and learn more about each group of stars.
Aquila is located along the Milky Way and has 10 stars, 9 of which have planets. Altair is the most famous star in the constellation and the 12th biggest star in the sky, lying 16.8 light-years away and has 1.8 mass of our Sun. The Eagle is also home to a few interesting deep sky objects – the planetary nebula NGC 6803, the Phantom Streak Nebula, and the open clusters NGC 6709 and NGC 6755.
Lyra is a relatively small constellation and is associated with the Greek musician and poet Orpheus. It is home to the Ring Nebula, located south of Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra. Vega is the fifth brightest star in the sky, and it’s located 25 light years away from us. The Lyrids, the oldest known meteor shower, lasting from 16th to 26th April every year, originates from this constellation.
Cygnus is one of my favourite constellations in the Northern Hemisphere. Running through the heart of the Milky Way, The Swan can be seen from June to December. Deneb, the brightest star in Cygnus, is a blue-white supergiant, located 1,400 light-years away from us. Something you might find interesting is that on Mars, Deneb is the North Pole star. Details like this will come in use, once we colonise Mars with the help of SpaceX.
Among the deep sky objects found in Cygnus, KIC 8462852 is probably the one that caused a bit of disarray among astronomers and science enthusiasts. The object, also known as Tabby’s star became to be known as the home to an alien megastructure, giant planets, or a swarm of comets. Here is how it all came about. A few years ago, citizen astronomers found light fluctuations of up to 22% dimming in brightness. The data collected by the Kepler telescope unveiled that something is blocking the light of the star for a long period of time. The first major dip was observed in 2011 and it reduced the star’s brightness by 15% and by up to 22% in 2013. In comparison, Jupiter will block only 1% of the star’s light, indicating that something massive is orbiting around Tabby’s star. This and other findings, such as the fact that the star had gradually faded by about 20% from 1890 to 1989 naturally gave birth to ideas such as the existence of an alien megastructure, built to harness the energy of the star, also known as a Dyson sphere.
Don’t get excited just yet. A study published earlier this year, debunked this theory and suggested that the unusual dimming is caused by nothing more than dust. Well, we knew the Dyson sphere will be a long shot, but it might make for a good sci-fi film (someone please contact Christopher Nolan about this).
So, what else can we see in the summer night sky? There is the Andromeda Galaxy, named after the mythological princess Andromeda, found at the mere distance of 2.537 million light-years away. It is visible with the unaided eye, though it appears as a smudge, rather than the beautiful spiral galaxy, most of you have probably seen.
You can observe planets from our Solar System, Saturn and Jupiter are usually the main attraction, and of course, try and recognise other constellations in the night sky.
Take Hercules for example, named after the Roman mythological hero, Hercules is the fifth largest constellation and is home to the Great Globular Cluster and has 12 stars with known planets. You can easily locate the Kneeling Giant between the two bright stars Vega and Arcturus. The Ophiuchus constellation is equally visible anywhere in the world because it’s near the celestial equator. It contains the Kepler Supernova, believed to have appeared in 1604 and is the most recent supernova to have been observed with the naked eye. The constellation is also home of the Little Ghost Nebula, The Pipe Nebula, The Snake and The Dark Horse Nebula, and a number of globular clusters. All in all, it seems like a pretty crowded place.
If you are wondering how to spot Sagittarius just look for a teapot in the night sky. The teapot is an asterism, and it’s formed by the brightest stars in the constellation. The archer points to the heart of the Milky Way and is home of The Lagoon, Omega, and Trifid Nebulae.
The Scorpius constellation is one of the brightest constellations in the sky and lies close to the southern horizon. The scorpion has many bright stars, Antares probably being the most well-known one. The red supergiant is the 16th brightest star and is part of a binary system. The constellation is home to several interesting exoplanets and four deep space objects, one of which is the Butterfly Cluster.
There are also some interesting celestial events coming up this summer, and for those of you who own a telescope, they will be very exciting. On 27th June, Saturn will be at its closest to us and it will be fully illuminated by the Sun. It will be visible all night long and is the best time to photograph the ringed planet and its moons. There is also a Total Lunar Eclipse coming up on 27th July and the well-known Perseids Meteor Shower in August. So, get your astronomy geek on and try to capture something special this summer.
This is where I leave you, but wherever you are, don’t forget to look up. You never know, someone might be looking back at you.