As of July 20, it's been 40 years since humans first landed on our moon. I have to resist the tendency to expound on why human space exploration essentially ended with the Apollo project.
Instead, I want to salute those pioneers who, in less than a decade, using slide rules and rudimentary computers, designed, built and flew incredibly complex machines that lifted us off this planet, carried us across a quarter million miles of space to touch another heavenly body.
For me, Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon was a joyous and inspirational moment, so needed during those turbulent, troubled times of the late '60s.
Look up at our moon and imagine people working and playing there. It happened.
The summer night sky is full of critter constellations. Joining the familiar lion (Leo) and bears (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) - what, no tiger? - are, among others, an eagle (Aquila), a swan (Cygnus), scorpion (Scorpius), centaur (Sagittarius), and a mighty cute dolphin (Delphinus).
Delphinus is a small constellation, not far from the Summer Triangle asterism formed by the bright stars Vega in Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus and Altair in Aquila. Unlike many constellations, it doesn't require much stretch of imagination to envision a dolphin as the ancients Greek astronomers saw it. Not surprisingly, early Arab astronomers saw it as a camel, but that's another story.
As the Greeks saw it - to make a long myth short - Delphinus rescued the rather greedy and selfish poet, musician and ship captain Arion from his mutinous crew as he was forced to walk the plank. Grateful for Arion's salvation, Apollo, a gifted musician himself, placed the dolphin and Arion's lyre in the heavens for all to see.
While there are no dramatic objects for us to observe in Delphinus, there are several nearby. One of the most interesting is the Veil Nebula, gaseous remains of a supernova, in Cygnus. Since the star's explosion thousands of years ago, the two visible segments have separated by more than 2 degrees from our perspective. With a telescope at a dark-sky site, you should be able to see the eastern segment (NGC 6992) and, perhaps, the western piece (NGC 6960). The North American Nebula (NGC 7000) isn't far away, less than 3 degrees east of Deneb. It's a beauty in a wide-field scope or binoculars.
On July 1, brilliant Venus and fainter Mars are near each other and can be seen in the predawn sky. Look low in the east about 4:30 a.m. Watch the two planets throughout the month as they move through Taurus, near the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.
Jupiter can be found in Capricornus and is best seen in the early morning hours.
By 2 or 3 a.m. it is low in the southern sky.
Lewis McCool gazes at stars through a 10-inch Dobsonian from his Dolores home.