Autumn Milky Way
Moon-free November evenings are good times to watch the Milky Way -- the combined glow of millions of stars in the disk of the Milky Way galaxy. It arches from east to west, with a definite dip toward the northern horizon. But you need a dark sky to see the Milky Way -- far from the glow of city lights.
The autumn Milky Way is different from that of spring and summer. During those warmer months, Earth's nightside faces the heart of the galaxy, so we see vast clouds of stars.
Now, though, the nightside faces the galactic suburbs -- the less-populated outer regions. That makes the Milky Way look thinner and fainter at this time of year.
Even so, several of the Milky Way's most famous denizens are immersed in its glow, so it's worth a look.
Cygnus, the swan, is dropping toward the western horizon. Cygnus is also known as the Northern Cross, because its brightest stars form the shape of a crucifix. At Christmastime, the cross stands straight up from the western horizon around dark.
Around 8 or 9, Cassiopeia, the queen, stands atop the arch of the Milky Way. It looks like a letter M or W.
One of the brightest stars in the sky is yellow-orange Capella in the constellation Auriga, the charioteer. It's high in the northeast in mid-evening, and shines brightly amid the subtle glow of the Milky Way.
Look for the Milky Way beginning after darkness falls, and continuing throughout the night.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2004, 2008
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.