Just after dark this month, the Milky Way crosses the sky almost directly overhead in a north-south band. While the weather is still warm, this would be a great time to take binoculars outside and scan along the entire path and be amazed at the number of stars, clusters and nebulae that can be seen.
The brightest region of the Milky Way will be near the southern horizon. It is bright because that is the direction of the galactic center. This is also in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius.
While Sagittarius may be the archer of mythology, it is certainly the “teapot” to 21st century observers. The teapot is an asterism (meaning pattern of stars) that is only part of the larger whole of the constellation. With the teapot pouring towards the west, the Milky Way becomes the steam rising from the spout. At its highest position at 9 p.m., Sagittarius will never rise more than 30 degrees above the horizon.
Sagittarius is one of the most rewarding regions in the entire sky; there are numerous targets for your naked eyes, small binoculars or for any size telescope.
M22, the Sagittarius cluster is a bright globular cluster about 2 degrees up and to the left of the topmost star in the teapot. There are several other globular clusters visible with telescopes, but none is as bright as M22.
M8, the Lagoon Nebula is about 5 degrees to the right of that same star. After the Orion Nebula, the Lagoon Nebula is the second brightest star-forming region we can see. You can see the Lagoon with your naked eye.
With binoculars, numerous stars are visible as part of the open cluster associated with it. The glowing hydrogen gas that makes M8 so interesting will show up red in photographs, but because of the limitations of our eye sensitivity, we will only see this as a pale blue-gray fuzzy patch.
Slightly to the north of M8 is M20, the Trifid Nebula. Dark bands divide this nebula into three, thus its name.
Less than 10 degrees north of the teapot is M17, called the Omega Nebula, the Swan Nebula or the Checkmark Nebula depending on what your imagination says it looks like.
On the evening of Sept. 27, there will be another total lunar eclipse that will be visible right after sunset/moonrise. (Those happen simultaneously on days with a full moon.)
This is another chance to see a “blood moon” if you missed any of the other recent ones. This one will happen much earlier in the evening, so might be more convenient for your schedule.
Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina is an Oort cloud comet discovered in 2013. Being from the Oort cloud means that it is a long-period comet that, as far as we know, has never entered the inner solar system, and probably will never return once it leaves.
Current predictions are that it could become barely visible to the naked eye by Oct. 1. Most of the recent comets you may have heard about have been less than spectacular, so maybe this one will be just another chance for disappointment.
We should have clear skies for upcoming stargazing opportunities this Friday.
There should be Four Corners Stargazers scopes set up at Andrews Lake and another event at Chimney Rock. The Chimney Rock program requires a small fee and includes a pre-dusk archaeoastronomy talk.
Charles Hakes is an assistant professor in the physics and engineering department at Fort Lewis College and is director of the Fort Lewis Observatory. firstname.lastname@example.org