Mighty Milky Way

StarDate: July 15, 2009

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The next few evenings are a great time to watch the Milky Way -- the faint band of light that outlines the disk of our home galaxy. The Moon doesn't rise until the wee hours of the morning, so it won't spoil the view. But streetlights will, so you need to get away from the city to see the Milky Way.

As the last glow of twilight fades away, look for the Milky Way arcing across the eastern sky, from due south to due north.

The southern end is marked by two of the most prominent constellations in the night sky, Scorpius and Sagittarius.

The stars of Scorpius really do form the outline of a scorpion, from its wide head, down through its brightest star, orange Antares, to its curving tail and sharp stinger.

The stars of Sagittarius form a teapot to the left of Scorpius. Under a dark sky, you'll see "steam" rising out of the spout -- great clouds of stars in the Milky Way. In fact, the center of the galaxy is in that direction -- about 27,000 light-years away.

Follow the band of the Milky Way to the northeast for Cygnus, the swan -- also known as the Northern Cross. Its brightest star, Deneb, forms the swan's tail.

Then arc toward the northern horizon and Cassiopeia, the queen, which looks like the letter W. Like the other constellations, it's immersed in the subtle glow of the Milky Way -- a beautiful band of light that'll be in good view until the Moon starts to get in the way again in about a week and a half.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

The one constant in the Universe: StarDate magazine

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