The Glow of Billions

Travel out of the city on a clear moonless night, leaving the dome of light pollution behind you. Stepping out of your car, you are instantly greeted by thousands of stars. This is the true sky that many people never have the chance to see and enjoy from city limits. The night sky is a thing of beauty to grasp. no matter what season – even winter. It is, however, summer and early fall that we see an extra bonus high above.

The great band of light stretching from the constellations of Sagittarius in the south to the famous “W” of Cassiopeia in the northeast is our Milky Way Galaxy. The galactic centre is located off the right side of Sagittarius is about 26,000 light-years and thus the heaviest concentration of distant suns. The “ghostly” veil is the collective glow of billions of distant stars that cannot be resolved with th3 f. This is a sight everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. 

And when you do decide to take that road trip, be sure to bring binoculars if you own them. There is a wealth of celestial objects that come into view with simple 8X50 binoculars. As you sweep across the Milky Way with the binoculars, hundreds of stars fill the field of view. 

Two planets are located on either side of Sagittarius with bright Jupiter on the right and Saturn on the left but shining only about half as bright. Saturn is at opposition on the 9th and rises at sunset. You will require larger magnification to catch Jupiter’s moon and a telescope to marvel Saturn’s rings. Almost halfway between the planets is a hazy patch of light. This is Messier 8 or simply M8. Otherwise known as the Lagoon Nebula, this “stellar nursery” is slowly forming new stars through the process of collapsing and condensing interstellar gas and dust. Who knows how many new exoplanets might form from these future stars. 

The Lagoon is located 4,100 light-years away. Along with its dusty nebulous regions, we see tiny inky black Bok globules (named after Bart Bok), which are pockets of dense gas that could form new stars. Located in the nebula is NGC 6530, a cluster of very bright suns. At an estimated age of only 2.3 million years, these juvenile suns are young on the cosmic scale. A bit north and west of M8 (one and a third degrees) is M20. The Trifid Nebula located 5,200 light-years away is also a star-forming area. It is, however, more than that. The Trifid contains an open cluster, blue reflection nebula and dark nebula, dividing the target into three segments.

There are two eclipses in July that will not be seen from Canada. First is a total solar eclipse on July 2 which mostly crosses the Pacific Ocean west of South America but does make landfall over Chile and Argentina. Then on the night of July 16 is a partial lunar eclipse visible over most of Africa. This month’s Full Buck Moon occurs on the 21st. 

July 20 will be the 50th anniversary of humans landing on the surface of the moon. The last half-century has seen tremendous advancement in technology and space exploration. We have sent Voyager 1 & 2 to give us a close up look in the gas giants, sent an array of orbiting satellites and rovers to Mars. For almost 30 years the Hubble Space Telescope has imaged the far depths of the Universe. Gravity waves have been detected over the past few years stemming from Einstein’s prediction in 1916. And finally, we have imaged a black hole located 55 million light-years away. This is a wonderful age to follow amazing discoveries and enjoy the night sky with today’s state of the art telescopes and cameras. 

Until next month, clear skies everyone.
Gary Boyle

eNews date: 
Monday, July 1, 2019