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"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales
painting by Katie Bergenholtz

Discover and Explore: The Summer Nighttime Sky

Full Moon
First you might want to print out and put together this star chartIt is interesting to see how the stars change as the months go by. 


The Summer Triangle

Starmap of summer triangle
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This is the perfect time to learn some summer constellations. The first thing to look for is the "summer triangle" which is a triangle formed by three constellations; Cygnus, Aquila and Lyra. 

Go out after dark and if you have a smart phone, use an app such as Stargazer to locate them in the night sky, so you will know where to look. When we first looked, it was too cloudy for us to actually see anything but one bright star, which we think was Vega, in the constellation Lyra. 
6/1/12
Keep looking each evening until you can locate them. You have all summer to work on it!

The Summer Constellations: Lyra

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This week we focused on the constellation Lyra from the Summer Triangle we found last week. To find Lyra, look for Vega, the brightest star in the constellation. Lyra looks like a small, lopsided square, with Vega just beside one of the corners of the square.
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The legend of Lyra tells the story of Orpheus, who was given a harp by the god Apollo. Orpheus married the lovely maiden Eurydice, but after their wedding, she was bitten by a snake and died. Orpheus was so stricken with grief that he journeyed to the underworld to win her return. His music not only gained him entry to Hades, it caused Pluto, the god of the underworld, to soften his heart and grant Orpheus' wish, but there was one condition -Eurydice had follow Orpheus, who could not look back until both had gained the upper world. Before Eurydice could take the final steps into the light, Orpheus turned to gaze upon her and she vanished. Once Orpheus died, the Muses buried him, and Apollo placed his magical harp in the sky -- as Lyra.

Aquila
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After finding Lyra, Aquila was next on our list. If you can find the summer triangle (see above) you can see that Lyra is on one of the points of the triangle, and Aquila is on another of the points. Aquila means "eagle" in Latin, and looks like an bird with its wings spread in flight, with its beak (a rather large one, too) made with the brightest star, Altair (which comes from the Arabic phrase "al-nasr al-tair", meaning "the flying eagle".) Aquila represents the eagle who carried out many tasks for Jupiter (and Zeus in the Greek mythology) including carrying his thunderbolts. This constellation was also known to the Romans as "Flying Vulture" (vultur volans).

Cygnus

The last constellation in the summer triangle is Cygnus, which isn't too difficult to find since we have been practicing finding the Summer Triangle and this constellation forms the left hand corner of the triangle. We learned that Cygnus is a Greek word that has been Latinized and means "swan". There are several swans in Greek mythology, but the one we chose to read about was Orpheus, who was transformed into a swan after his murder, and was said to have been placed in the sky next to his lyre. A prominent feature of this constellation is the asterism known as the Northern Cross, formed by the five brightest stars in the constellation. An asterism is a pattern of stars that is not a constellation.The brightest star is Deneb, which is at the top of the constellation. Cygnus is bordered by Cepheus to the north and east, Draco to the north and west, Lyra to the west, Vulpecula to the south, Pegasus to the southeast and Lacerta to the east.

Hercules

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The next, and last, stop on our summer constellation study is the constellation Hercules. The mythical stories associated with this constellation are obvious and many. We read about him in D'Aularies Book of Greek Myths, where he was called Heracles. Hercules has no first or second magnitude stars, so it might be a little harder to spot.
The Summer Triangle, and the globular cluster M13 in Hercules, as seen at 10 p.m. on July 20.source
However, if you have been following us in finding the summer triangle, it should not be too hard to find. Locate the summer triangle and then Lyra and you will find Hercules just to the right of Lyra. Look for the faint smudge of the Great Globular Cluster M13 in the constellation Hercules. If you look the constellation up in books, you will see it positioned to show the figure of Hercules upright, but in the summer sky, he is upside-down. An asterism that forms the lower part of Hercules body is known as the Keystone. You could also find the constellation Hercules by finding this Keystone, which is to the right of the bright star in Vega in Lyra. If you begin at the bright star, Deneb in Cygnus, you can follow that edge of the Summer Triangle, go through Vega in Lyra and continue going straight and you will find the Keystone asterism in Hercules.

Perseus and the Super Moon

Night sky photograph of the constellation Perseus


Oh, and the 2014 Perseid meteor shower will peak between August 10 and August 13. It is so named because the direction the shower seems to come from lies in the same direction as the constellation Perseus, named after the Greek hero of that name. The constellation lies in the north-eastern part of the sky.
The second and largest of three super moons rises on Sunday August 10, and it also happens to be the beginning of the Perseids Meteor Shower. A super moon is when a full moon is at the closest point it will be to the earth appearing extra large and the Perseid Meteor Shower come around every year at about this time. Typically 60-100 meteors per hour can be seen but this year, because of the super moon, you will more likely see 15-20 meteors per hour, but still worth the effort!
The meteor shower peaks August 12-13. The best time to see the meteor shower is between 11PM and before dawn. View from a place with as little light pollution as possible.

9 comments:

  1. Our winter skies are always so clear and cloud free - if only it wasn't too cold to go out then.

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  2. I'm terrible at locating constellations, but my kids can! LOL Fun!

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  3. My son really wants to learn about astronomy, especially linking it in with his faith. He has so many black hole, 2nd universe type questions. I wonder if I'll be able to answer them all! It'll be interesting, if nothing else!

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  4. I remember learning about Cygnus in high school astronomy and spending a lot of time just laying there looking up at the stars.

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  5. Looking forward to seeing how you explore the night sky over the summer - we may just follow along :) Thanks for the resources!

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    1. Oh, I hope you do. That would be so neat.

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  6. We have the app and it is wonderful. We've been using it since winter and it has been wonderful.

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    1. We have been using it off and on for quite some time now, but all just playing around fun. We have never used it in an organized fashion before.

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    2. Ours isn't really organized either, but fun and we are learning a lot from it.

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