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July 27, 2014

Spaced-Out Challenge: The Summer Sky for Beginners With Binoculars

Welcome again to the Spaced-Out Challenge! Whether you have a question about equipment, a new astronomical discovery you want to expand on, or just want to kick back and enjoy the cosmos above, come one come all on our weekly astronomical journey.

First, apologies for not doing the weekly thread as thoroughly in the past, but the Decision Desk coverage has gobbled a lot of my time. This week, we'll review what's overhead for the total novice. Mankind has been using star patterns to predict everything from the change of the seasons to the fall of kings. Now, astronomers use them to find the numerous wonders over head. Here's a quick guide around, using patterns anyone can pull from the heavens away from city lights.

View image

(Unfortunately the sky map doesn't work in the confines of 500px)

The two brightest stars on the chart are the brightest you will see from zenith south this time of year: Vega and Antares. Vega forms a bright triangle of stars commonly called the Summer triangle. Moving west from Vega, you will hit the keystone shape in the heart of Hercules. If you aim your binoculars at the read circle, you will enjoy one of the finest clusters in the sky, M13, discussed previously in our Messier Marathon series.

Moving back to Vega and the Summer Triangle, you'll notice that another point in it, Deneb, forms a crossed pattern within: the Northern Cross. The end star opposite Deneb is the beautiful double-star Albireo, best viewed with image-stabilized binoculars and telescopes. Moving North from the Cross, along the arc of the Milky Way, the bright W of Cassiopeia, and it's cluster of clusters, appears. Scan this region with a pair of binoculars for wonder after wonder.

Moving south/east from the W, you'll notice a great square of stars, which makes up the main body of Pegasus. Arcing off it are three stars forming the main body of Andromeda, and about half way between it and the W lies a small, cloudy patch plainly visible from rural skies. Your eyes won't resolve much, but a pair of binoculars will reveal a beautiful misty oval: the Andromeda Galaxy.

Now, redirect your attention south, to the heart of the Milky Way. From a truly dark site, a glorious bulge of gas and dust will compete with the brightest thicket of stars. This region is outlined, roughly, with two bright constellations. Rather than draw you the arbitrary archer and pinchers, here the main body of both is easy to pick out: the Teapot of Sagittarius, and the Fishhook of Scorpius. North of the Teapot, the "Teaspoon" of fainter Sagittarius stars appears. Focusing on the Teapot, and moving north and west lies a disconnected, bright star (see the line in yellow). Between this star and the tip of the Teapot lies a plethora of clusters and nebulae, the brightest of which is faintly visible to the naked eye: the Lagoon. Move in either direction with your binoculars for a string of wondrous sites, including the Trifid Nebula, the Swan Nebula, M23, M25, and the Sagittarius Star Cloud.
Moving towards the "terrible tail" of the Scorpion, two misty patches will be visible to your eyes, patches that resolve into beautiful clusters M6 and M7 in binoculars. These are best viewed with these: small telescopes lose the vastness of these open jewelboxes. Lastly, around the curve of the Fishhook lies a beautiful naked-eye asterism, the "False Comet". You'll need great seeing conditions and a clear Southern horizon to enjoy it, but it is never disappoints.


The full Beginner's Buyer's Guide, our Comet Guide (featuring additional grab-and-go telescopes), and any other edition you're looking for can be found in the master index of all Spaced-Out Challenge threads here, but of course you can always inquire about binoculars, telescopes, and all the rest in the comments.
As always, if you have astrophotography, product recommendations, or astronomy news you'd like to see on a future Spaced-Out Challenge, email me at theoneandonlyfinn (at) gmail.com, or tweet me @conartcritic.

If you have any more questions about your new optics, feel free to ask below.
Until next time, clear skies to you, and keep looking up!

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posted by CAC at 09:55 PM

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