Losing Sight of the Lights
Can you see the Milky Way?
A week after solstice, the 28th marks the latest sunset of the year, at 44 seconds past 8:35. And while a few bright lights will pierce the glare of twilight, it isn’t until nearly 10pm that the sky truly darkens and the stars start to shine.
Saturn is likely to be the first object you see, high in the southwest at sunset. High above it is the amber glow of Arcturus, the brightest star visible. Trailing 15 degrees behind Saturn is Spica, a bit dimmer and blue compared to yellow Saturn. With darkness, look just above Saturn for the faint glow of Porrima, revealed as a binary star when viewed with a telescope.
The stars of the Summer Triangle shine high in the east at night. Brightest of the three is Vega in the constellation Lyra. Twenty degrees to its lower left is Deneb of Cygnus the swan, also called the Northern Cross. Farthest to the east is Altair, the head of the eagle Aqulia.
While clear skies are enough to reveal the bright lights of the Summer Triangle, without deep darkness you’re missing the proverbial forest for the trees, as this is among the most star-filled part of the heavens. Obscured by light pollution to the point that an estimated two-thirds of Americans cannot see it from where they live, the Milky Way is fast becoming a lost treasure.
Fortunately, properly dark haunts remain on both land and water hereabouts where you can see this river of stars on dark summer nights. The Milky Way encircles the earth, appearing as a hazy band that this time of year stretches from Sagitarius in the south to Perseus in the north. It is made up of hundreds of billions of stars, every one we see, including our own sun. Looking at the Milky Way we are gazing toward our galaxy’s center, 20,000 light years away from our vantage two-thirds of the way out in one of its spiral arms. And as earth revolves around the sun, our solar system revolves around the galaxy’s center, completing one revolution every 225 million years.