Here are a few resources to help you view the night sky in your own backyard and improve your skills as an amateur astronomer.
Getting to Know Tonight’s Sky – Finding the First Lights
The Stars of Summer
Deneb (Alpha Cygni) is a white giant and first magnitude star even though it is more than 1300 light years away. The exact distance is not known, though it is probably closer to 1800 light years. Compare the brightness of Deneb with the other two stars of the Summer Triangle Vega is 25 light years away while Altair is just 16.7 light years distant. That must be one amazing star up close! Deneb is the tail star of Cygnus the Swan, the bird flying south for the winter. He never gets lost because he follows the path of the Milky Way.
Vega is the brightest star in the Summer Triangle Vega, Deneb, and Altair. Challenge yourself to find Vega in tonight’s sky, then find the North Star. If Earth’s axis were extended into space, the north part would pass near Polaris 'the North Star'. But since the Earth wobbles on its axis, Polaris has not always been the ‘North Star'. Many thousands of years ago, the axis would have pointed toward Vega. Thanks to this wobble, in another 12,000 years, Vega will once again be the ‘North Star'.
The Summer Triangle is an asterism that will be visible throughout the fall. If you find yourself in a dark sky area, locate the Summer Triangle and watch it until your night vision kicks in then you will see the Milky Way flowing through it.
Have you ever wondered how many stars are in our galaxy?
For a closer look at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy click here to see a billion pixel mosaic. Click on a region and watch as billions of stars come into focus! Keep in mind, this is only one small region of the sky. As you pan through the mosaic, spend a few moments in wonder.
Set your calendar for the Perseid Meteor showers in mid-August. Go to http://stardate.org/nightsky/meteors for more information on this celestial event.