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5 Sky Events This Week: Milky Way Gems Sparkle While Venus Snuggles With Leo

The massive star factory known as the Trifid Nebula was captured in all its glory with the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in northern Chile. So named for the dark dust bands that trisect its glowing heart, the Trifid Nebula is a rare combination of three nebulae types that reveal the fury of freshly formed stars and point to more star birth in the future. Credit: ESO
The massive star factory known as the Trifid Nebula is a rare combination of three types of nebulae. Courtesy of ESO

Chances to easily hunt down stunning Milky Way treasures come sky-watchers’ way this week, thanks to our trusty moon pointing the way.

Cosmic teapot. After nightfall on Wednesday, September 3, look toward the southern sky for a waxing gibbous moon. To its lower left is the constellation Sagittarius and its teapot-shaped pattern of stars—complete with handle, lid, and spout.

You’ll find the teapot slightly tilted, with its celestial steam rising into the sky. It’s amazing to think that when we look toward this gauzy region of the sky, we are gazing upon the central hub of our Milky Way, which is more than 26,000 light-years away. Of course, the moonlight will filter out the Milky Way’s glow this week, but binoculars and telescopes should help cut through the lunar glare.

This illustration shows Sagittarius constellation and its Teapot pattern. The Milky Way appears to pour out of its spout. Meanwhile this week the moon points to some deep-sky treasures in this part of the night sky on September 3, 2014. Credit: SkySafari
This illustration shows the constellation Sagittarius and its teapot pattern. The Milky Way appears to pour out of its spout. Meanwhile, this week the moon points to some deep-sky treasures in this part of the night sky on September 3, 2014. Credit: SkySafari

For backyard astronomers, main attractions in Sagittarius include the numerous colorful gas clouds, or giant star factories, scattered within one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way. These nebulae are home to hundreds of newborn stars still wrapped in hot, gaseous blankets. And on Wednesday night, you can rely on the moon to guide you to some of the best known ones:

Lagoon Nebula. Among the most beautiful of these gems is the Lagoon Nebula. On a very dark, clear night far from city lights, its faint fuzzy glow can be glimpsed with the naked eye. Located about 6,500 light-years from Earth, the red- and orange-hued Lagoon has a cluster of young stars buried at its center.

Tonight it appears less than 5 degrees below the moon, a distance equal to about the width of your fist held at an arm’s length.

Gas and dust condense, beginning the process of creating new stars in this image of Messier 8, also known as the Lagoon Nebula.  This image was snapped by the 1.5-metre Danish telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory in Chile. Credit: ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/ R. Gendler, U.G. Jørgensen, K. Harpsøe
Gas and dust condense, creating new stars in this image of Messier 8, also known as the Lagoon Nebula. Courtesy of  ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/ R. Gendler, U.G. Jørgensen, K. Harpsøe

Trifid Nebula. Lying just above the Lagoon Nebula, about one degree higher, is the Trifid Nebula, made famous in the original Star Trek TV series, where its picture was often used as a backdrop.

Smaller and much dimmer, this 9,000-light-year-distant nebula has two distinct sections that glow red and blue in photographs. Through a telescope eyepiece, the two 30-light-year-wide gaseous areas appear as small hazy spots, slightly smaller than the full moon.

This skychart shout he moon on the night of Sept.3, 2014 pointing the way to two of the sky's most famous nebulae, the Lagoon and Trifid. Credit: SkySafari
This sky chart shows the moon on the night of September 3, 2014, pointing the way to three of the sky’s most famous deep-sky sights, the M23 star cluster and both the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae. Courtesy of SkySafari

Finally, another major showpiece in Sagittarius is the M23 open star cluster. You’ll find this stellar gem less than 2 degrees to the right of the moon. Binoculars will help tease out Messier 23 from the moon’s glare. Not as impressive as some other Milky Way treats, this 2,100-light-year-distant group of 150 stars makes for a pretty sight, especially when seen through a small telescope. The entire cluster spans about 30 arc-minutes across the sky, equal to the diameter of the full moon—so it can fill the entire field of view in the eyepiece.

Venus and Regulus. Early bird sky-watchers up at the crack of dawn on Friday, September 5, will see the Goddess of Love snuggle up to the heart of the King of Beasts.

The planet Venus and the star Regulus, the brightest one in the constellation Leo, the Lion, will appear stunningly close, less than one degree apart, which is equal to the width of two full moons set side by side in the sky.

This sky chart shows Venus and the star Regulus- the heart of Leo, the lion constellation in a tight conjunction early morning of august 5, 2014. Credit: SkySafari
This sky chart shows the low eastern horizon where Venus and the star Regulus, the heart of the constellation Leo, the Lion,  will appear in a tight conjunction in the early morning of September 5, 2014. Courtesy of SkySafari

The trick to soaking in this cosmic treat will be to find a location that has a clear view, right down to the eastern horizon. Also because Regulus, some 77 light-years away, shines one hundred times fainter than Venus, a pair of binoculars will really help bring this conjunction into focus.

The Moon and Neptune. Late night on Sunday, September 7, look toward the southeast sky for the waxing gibbous moon parked near Neptune.

This illustration shows the location of Neptune in relation to the moon near midnight on September 7, 2014. Credit: SkySafari
This illustration shows the location of Neptune in relation to the moon near midnight on September 7, 2014. Credit: SkySafari

The blue ice giant will be about 6 degrees to the lower left of the moon, in the faint zodiacal constellation of Aquarius.

You will need binoculars or a small telescope to pick up the planet’s tiny blue disk, shining near magnitude 8 among the mythical water bearer’s faint stars.

Happy hunting!

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Comments

  1. Victoria Delgado
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    September 2, 10:44 pm

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  2. plgilliam110@gmail.com
    United States
    September 2, 4:46 pm

    There is so much beauty to see if we take time to look up.