Milky Way Southern Galaxies


I'm still waiting for a clear night to take out my telescope. Hopefully, it will happen soon. Clouds are welcome when they bring rain. Otherwise, they can go away. The 1st quarter moon is Sept. 3, and Labor Day is the 5th.

The Milky Way is now high overhead starting at the southern horizon and ending at the northeastern horizon. Just above Sagittarius is Scutum the Shield. It's a small four-star kite shaped constellation that tilts to the left. Make a fist with your hand and hold it out in front of you to see its size in the sky. Like Sagittarius, it sits in front of a very bright part of our galaxy that contains rich star clouds. Scutum wasn't recognized as a constellation until the 17thcentury, so it's one of the "newer" constellations that we see.

Its highlight is M11, the Wild Duck cluster, which is 5.600 light years from us. With the naked eye, it looks like a bright misty patch in the Milky Way. Binoculars will obviously show you more, and a telescope shows that its fan shaped. R. Scutti is a yellow supergiant variable star that changes its brightness considerably in a 144-day cycle.

Just above Scutum is Aquilla the Eagle which is also in the brightest area of the Milky Way. Aquilla is Arabic for "the bird". The eagle belonged to the Greek god Zeus and carried the god's thunderbolts for him. It contains 10 stars, and you know the brightest one. It's Altair which is part of the Summer Triangle.

So, find Altair, then stretch out your fingers and hold out your hand in front of you. Now you know how big Aquilla is. Altair is either the head of the eagle or the tail, because the eagle has been identified as flying in two different directions. So, when you look at it, do you think it's flying down or to the left? The eagles' flight has been identified for at least 3,000 years making it one of the older constellations.

Near Altair are two stars that appear as twins. Also in the constellation is NGC 6700, which is an open star cluster 3,000 light years away that's visible with binoculars. Aquilla also contains a supergiant variable star Eta Aquilla that changes its brightness every 72 days, but not as dramatic as R. Scutti.

The third-smallest constellation in the sky is Sagitta the Arrow, which is just above Aquilla. It sits horizontally across the Summer Triangle line between Altair and Deneb and resembles an arrow with six stars. Its small size can be identified by holding your thumb out in front of you. This is an old constellation identified by Greeks, Romans, Persians, and Hebrews. Apollo used this arrow to slay Cyclops, and Cupid used it in the art of conjuring love.