From our Other Members...

The Galactic Center

In the summertime you wait longer for the dark night to arrive but the wait is well worth it!  There is no other time of the year that you can see so many different and wonderful visions that are all within a small sector of the sky.  Everything from the center of our Milky Way galaxy containing many open and globular clusters to beautiful and different nebulae.  Whatever your preferences may be you shouldn’t miss this incredible variety of light and energy exhibited by these celestial wonders.

   You can begin by looking low in the southern sky after dark.  The best place to start may be the center so let us.  Begin by finding the zodiac constellation SCORPIUS.  It’s one of the largest constellations in the summer sky.  You may notice it appears like a large hook on its side.  The end of the hook is the scorpion’s stinger and the handle is its claws.  In addition, you’ll see a bright red star located near the center of the hook.  This is Antares, the heart of the scorpion!  The name means rival of Mars (Ares) due to its striking resemblance.  It is the brightest star in SCORPIUS.  It’s actually a binary star system consisting of a red SUPERGIANT and a fainter star.  Now that you’ve located this constellation let’s look to the left of it and spend a little time with SAGITTARIUS.  This is a half man-half horse. Nowadays we see a teapot but in the past it was well known as the archer pointing his arrow at the scorpion.  This constellation contains open and globular clusters as well as nebulae.  It contains fifteen Messier objects many of these can be seen with binoculars.  Looking at these two zodiacal constellations draws our attention to the galactic center of our Milky Way.  Recent evidence leads scientists to believe a black hole is there and was involved in the formation of our galaxy.

   Now that our viewing has begun let’s move from the naked eye to binoculars in order to increase our awareness of this magnificent part of our celestial sphere. We will find the Butterfly cluster, Ptolemy’s cluster, the Lagoon nebula, the Trifid nebula, the Omega nebula and M-22 .

   Using your binoculars move slightly above the scorpion’s stinger and to the left a little. If you are having trouble then go back to your unaided eye look above the stinger and you will see a fuzzy cloud which is    (M 6) the Butterfly cluster.  This is an open cluster of about 80 stars covering an area four times that of the moon. It lies 1600 light years away.  Now move a little further left and your upon Ptolemy’s cluster (M 7).  This open cluster was described by Ptolemy in 130 A.D. as “ the nebulae following the sting of the scorpion”.  It is a large group of  80 brilliant stars only 800 light years away. After you’ve enjoyed both of these objects we’ll move to the Lagoon nebulae (M 8). All you need to do is view slightly above the spout of the teapot This is a bright, very large and irregular nebulosity visible to the naked eye but much better with optical aids. There is an open cluster within M 8 known as NGC 6523. The more powerful telescopes will show you some pink color and a lot of detail. This object is 5200 light years away. The Trifid nebulae (M 20) is next and it’s just above M 8. Look for the dark lanes in this cloud of gas and particles.

   Incidentally, we have moved out of the boundaries of SCORPIUS and into those of SAGITTARIUS.  The Omega nebulae (M17) is next. Finding this object will take more effort than the others. If you look above the top of the teapot and stay in the dense part of our Milky Way galaxy your chances are better. In addition, the distance from M 7 to M 8 is a little less than the distance from M 8 to M 17.   Another name is the Swan or Horseshoe nebulae.  This is one of the brightest nebula in the sky. This object captures me for quite some time when I get to it.  Filters come in handy when looking at this majestic object.

    The time has come for us to look at the brightest globular cluster in the northern hemisphere. No that isn’t M 13( the Hercules Supercluster) , it’s M 22 !! This object is often overlooked by astronomers because it sits so low on the horizon. Finding it is easy, just go to the top of the teapot and move slightly to the left.After you have enjoyed that marvel move slightly to the right of that and here is M 28. It may be smaller but just as pretty as the previous one!  Let’s continue viewing more globulars in this constellation by moving to the bottom of the teapot. Here you will find three in a row M 54, M 69, and M 70. There are more globulars to be seen in SCORPIUS but I will not elaborate at this time.

    I hope this journey we engaged upon has been as fruitful and fun for you as it has been for me. I also hope you will explore more of the space around which I didn’t have time to comment upon. There are so many beautiful celestial objects to be seen and so little time for us to enjoy them!!

By Mike Hopper

Category: Other Members