Best Time to See Northern Milky Way

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 2, 2014 – 2:18 pm -

Early September is the best time of the year to catch the northern Milky Way – our home galaxy in the evening skies.  After nightfall around 9 pm – the three brightest stars visible this time of the year shine nearly overhead and point the way to the grand beauty of this grand collection of stars.
The stellar trio forms what is known as the Summer Triangle.. Each corner’s bright star represents a starting point to an individual constellation. So you get a three for one deal! While not a constellation itself, the Summer Triangle offers a great three-for-one-deal to backyard stargazers. Riding overhead and leading the triangle is Vega, part of the constellation Lyra, the harp. The other points of the triangle are Deneb, the tail of Cygnus the swan, and Altair, the eye of Aquila the eagle.
And if you look carefully you will notice that the brightest section of the Milky Way band also happens to run right through this region of the night sky.  From Montreal suburbs the Milky Way will be a challenge to see, but with binoculars – it is quite an impressive sight to sit back and scan.
However even from a half hour drive from the city- like from Hudson or Ste. Lazare – the Milky Way looks like a pearly luminescent ribbon stretching across the night sky. At first sight it’s easily mistaken for an overhead bank of faint clouds. Gaze at it with binoculars however and you will notice countless number of stars.
The Milky Way is a collection of stars, clouds of gas and dust we call a galaxy. Our Sun and its family of planets live inside this vast spinning pinwheel shaped island of stars. Home to about 100 billion suns, this Frisbee-shaped disk stretches some 100,000 light years across and is about 1000 light years thick. Yet, the Milky Way is only one of over 100 billion other galaxies that are thought to inhabit the Universe.
The hazy band we see in our sky is one of our galaxy’s spiral arms spread out in front of us – filled with countless of millions of stars. Our Sun sits about two-thirds of the way out from the downtown central core of the spiral at about 30,000 light years distant.
Lifting silently across the sky, the Milky Way glows from the north horizon to south horizon throughout the summer. It crosses many constellations from Cassiopeia low in the north, through Cygnus overhead and straight down to Sagittarius in the south. This is where you’ll find the heart of our galaxy. While most of the central hub of this giant pinwheel is obstructed by gas and dust there is a definite bulging radiance in that direction.  Sweeping this region with binoculars and you’ll discover scatterings of all types of interesting clusters and nebulas.

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Early September is the best time of the year to catch the northern Milky Way – our home galaxy in the evening skies.  After nightfall around 9 pm – the three brightest stars visible this time of the year shine nearly overhead and point the way to the grand beauty of this grand collection of stars.

The stellar trio forms what is known as the Summer Triangle. Each corner’s bright star represents a starting point to an individual constellation. So you get a three for one deal! While not a constellation itself, the Summer Triangle offers a great three-for-one-deal to backyard stargazers. Riding overhead and leading the triangle is Vega, part of the constellation Lyra, the harp. The other points of the triangle are Deneb, the tail of Cygnus the swan, and Altair, the eye of Aquila the eagle.

And if you look carefully you will notice that the brightest section of the Milky Way band also happens to run right through this region of the night sky.  From Montreal suburbs the Milky Way will be a challenge to see, but with binoculars – it is quite an impressive sight to sit back and scan.

However even from a half hour drive from the city- like from Hudson or Ste. Lazare – the Milky Way looks like a pearly luminescent ribbon stretching across the night sky. At first sight it’s easily mistaken for an overhead bank of faint clouds. Gaze at it with binoculars however and you will notice countless number of stars.

The Milky Way is a collection of stars, clouds of gas and dust we call a galaxy. Our Sun and its family of planets live inside this vast spinning pinwheel shaped island of stars. Home to about 100 billion suns, this Frisbee-shaped disk stretches some 100,000 light years across and is about 1000 light years thick. Yet, the Milky Way is only one of over 100 billion other galaxies that are thought to inhabit the Universe.

The hazy band we see in our sky is one of our galaxy’s spiral arms spread out in front of us – filled with countless of millions of stars. Our Sun sits about two-thirds of the way out from the downtown central core of the spiral at about 30,000 light years distant.

Lifting silently across the sky, the Milky Way glows from the north horizon to south horizon throughout the summer. It crosses many constellations from Cassiopeia low in the north, through Cygnus overhead and straight down to Sagittarius in the south. This is where you’ll find the heart of our galaxy. While most of the central hub of this giant pinwheel is obstructed by gas and dust there is a definite bulging radiance in that direction.  Sweeping this region with binoculars and you’ll discover scatterings of all types of interesting clusters and nebulas.


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Glowing Star Factories Captured

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 20, 2014 – 10:21 am -

Two giant star clusters tucked away in one of the neighboring arms of our Milky Way galaxy glow in full display in a dramatic new portrait. They also offer a fun opportunity for backyard astronomers.
Using the giant eye of the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers captured two dynamic star-forming regions in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. A minor limb of our galaxy, the spiral arm consists mostly of gas and dust. Recent research shows that it is surprisingly devoid of stellar activity, making these two star factories real standouts in our galactic neighborhood.
The star cluster on the left side, named NGC 3603, is located some 20,000 light-years from Earth. Its companion on the right, a colorful gas cloud known as NGC 3576, sits much closer to Earth at only 9,000 light-years distant.
NGC 3603 is real stellar jewel box filled with hundreds of young, massive stars, one of the richest open star clusters in the entire galaxy.
Originally, these stars formed behind a veil of gas and dust. However, as they matured, they cleared away much of this material and left behind the glowing clouds that we see today surrounding the hot, young stars.
Meanwhile, NGC 3576 brandishes the same horn-shaped clouds of gas. They were carved by strong stellar winds billowing out from the young stars cocooned within the colorful nebula.
Above the nebula, the two conspicuous black clouds called “Bok globules” are ripe for future star formation as well.
Star formation in the southern Milky Way

From ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile shows two swirling star formations in the southern Milky Way in a smaller arm of our galaxy. Courtesy of ESO/G. Beccari

In a neighbouring arm of our Milky Way lay two glowing giant star clusters that produced this new dramatic photo. These stunning star factories can be seen from viewers’ own backyards in southern latitudes.

At the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers captured what appears to be swirling dust and gas in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. Surprisingly this minor arm showed very little stellar activity making these beauties standout in this mostly dark part of our neighbourhood.

While visiting South Africa in 1834, British astronomer John Herschel first noted these fiery clusters in the Southern Hemisphere. Now backyard sky-watchers can see these same nebula using a small telescope.

Read all the details and get sky charts for these and other events on my National Geographic Viewer’s Guide.


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Amazing Stargazing Sights This Week

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 11, 2014 – 10:46 pm -

This image of uranus was captured by Voyager 2 back in 1986. This week sky-watchers get to see the Green Giant through binoculars next to the moon.Credit: NASA

This image of uranus was captured by Voyager 2 back in 1986. This week sky-watchers get to see the Green Giant through binoculars next to the moon.Credit: NASA

The starry skies this week offer up a quite a wide variety of celestial sights, including planetary duos and one of the year’s best flurry of meteors.

While the moon may have just past its full phase and still dominates the evening sky, the planets still are easy to spot even from urban location.  Folks should keep an eye out for a coming close encounter between Mars and Saturn over the course of the coming weeks in the late evenings, while Venus and Jupiter have their own conjunction in the early mornings in the east.

Read all the details and get sky charts for these and other events on my National Geographic Viewer’s Guide.


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World Celebrates the Universe in April

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 3, 2014 – 6:39 am -

2014GAM_200Get set to party with the stars this month! The world’s largest program dedicated to sharing the wonders of the universe kicks off an exciting series of events for space geeks throughout this month.

This year’s Global Astronomy Month (GAM2014) brings together astronomy enthusiasts and organizations worldwide to share the passion for the night sky with everyone, celebrating the motto of “One People, One Sky.”

Founded and coordinated by the international astronomy advocacy organization Astronomers Without Borders (AWB), this month-long star party is in its fifth year and is better than ever with a jam-packed schedule of out-of-this-world programs.  From virtual tours of the night sky, astopoetry contest, cosmic concert and global star parties there is something for everyone.

Check out the entire program schedule here


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Amazing Stargazing Sights This Week

Written by The Night Sky Guy on February 10, 2014 – 3:31 pm -

Credit: Spaceweather.com

Credit: Spaceweather.com

On this very special week we celebrate Valentine’s Day the sky is full of romance too with the moon pointing to a giant  lion’s heart and the mythical goddess of love shining at its most brilliant.

Over the course of the next few days there is a whole line-up of stargazing targets for both the unaided eyes to backyard telescopes.

The brightest planets in the sky remain both Jupiter and Venus. Meanwhile you can still catch Mercury as it is fading fast low in the evening twilight in the southwest horizon.  Your best chance to see the innermost planet now is with binoculars.

Mars aficionados will have to wait until near midnight for it to rise in the east and will be at its highest in the south in the pre-dawn hours. If you have good atmospheric conditions a telescope will show off some of its largest surface features. Best views of the Red Planet though will be in April when its apparent diameter will be 50% wider.

Finally Saturn rises around local 1 am  and climbs to its highest point in the southern sky by dawn.  You can get a two-for-one deal since Mars will be its far right.

Get all your observing details for these and other sky events this week at my weekly skywatching column at National Geographic News.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, also on Twitter and Facebook


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Biggest Amateur Telescope Ever Built?

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 13, 2013 – 6:00 am -

Amateur telescope builder Mike Clements stands by this 35 ft. tall telescope he just completed. Credit: Fox News

Any backyard stargazer worth his or her salt will tell you that bigger is better when it comes to telescope size and one amateur astronomer in Utah is living the dream, having built a 70″ optical instrument.

While Guinness Book of Records has not officially taken a look at the monster scope, it looks like it may take the title of largest backyard telescope ever built by an amateur.

Check out my full story on this behemoth at National Geographic News.


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Cosmic Butterfly Mystery

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 16, 2013 – 2:50 pm -

Butterfly Emerges from Stellar Demise in Planetary Nebula NGC 6302. Credit: NASA

Butterfly Emerges from Stellar Demise in Planetary Nebula NGC 6302. Credit: NASA

New deep-sky images of the Milky Way’s central core reveal picturesque butterfly-shaped gas clouds left behind by dying stars called bipolar planetary nebulae.

And all appear to be mysteriously aligned with one another. Dozens upon dozens of these hauntingly beautiful stellar remnants are oriented in the same direction – despite being separated by many thousands of light years, and each exhibiting unique physical properties. Researchers are searching for how nature could come up with such a bizzare phenomena.

Learn more about this spectacular new discovery that has left astronomers scratching their heads in my story at National Geographic News


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Video: Weekly Space News Interview

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 16, 2013 – 2:35 pm -

Check out some of the cool space news hitting the wire this past week on my weekly CTV News Channel interview.


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Photo: Eskimo Nebula Burns Brightly

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 23, 2013 – 5:19 pm -

Eskimo nebula looks stunning in this new composite image. Credit:N. Ruiz et al, IAA-CSIC/CXC/STScI/NASA

Eskimo nebula looks stunning in this new composite image. Credit:N. Ruiz et al, IAA-CSIC/CXC/STScI/NASA

A glowing cloud of gas and dust has formed one of the most picturesque objects in the universe, around a dying star some 4000 light years away  from Earth.

Called the Eskimo or Clownface planetary nebula, this object is one of the favourite targets for backyard telescope users.  Now this newly released portrait reveals the Eskimo nebula like never before in a composite of two images snapped by NASA’s Chandra X-ray space telescope and it’s famous cousin, Hubble.

Amazing to think that this is a glimpse of the distant future of our own Sun- 5 billion years from now – when it becomes a Red Giant and blows off it’s atmosphere into space, forming a bubble of glowing gas just like the Eskimo nebula.

This nebula picture is just one of the best space photos chosen by editors at Nat Geo News. Check out the rest of the stunning Space Gallery.


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New Weekly Skywatching Column Launches

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 28, 2013 – 6:32 pm -

lookingup2Evening planets continue to dazzle and the largest asteroid in the solar system pays a brief visit in this week’s best space events.

I invite you to check out my new weekly skywatching column at National Geographic posted on Mondays.


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