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Tonight

Summer Triangle: Deneb and Cygnus the Swan

Summer Triangle captured on July 9, 2012 – by EarthSky Facebook friend Annie Lewis in Madrid, Spain. Thanks, Annie.

Tonight’s chart has you looking eastward at the famous Summer Triangle. Deneb is the northernmost star in the Summer Triangle. Its constellation is Cygnus the Swan. In a dark country sky, you can see that Cygnus is flying along the starlit trail of the summer Milky Way.

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2014

EarthSky Facebook friend Brian Emfinger created this amazing composite view during the 2012 Perseid meteor shower. Perseid meteors tend to cross the sky one by one. But this photo captures what you can expect to see during a burst of meteors – when several at once cross the sky – or during a particularly rich meteor display. Fantastic image Brian! Thank you.

Next up … the wonderful meteor showers that come each year in late July and early August. That is when two showers converge to give us what we in the N. Hemisphere consider, in most years, to be our best meteor display. The Perseids are best for the N. Hemisphere, and the Delta Aquarids are best for the S. Hemisphere, so there’s something for everyone. In 2014, there will be interference from the moon, so you’ll want to watch moonset times carefully. Late July and early August are likely better for meteor-watching than the mornings around the Perseids’ peak (August 11, 12 and 13). Details inside.

Top 6 tips for using ordinary binoculars for stargazing

Self-portrait with binoculars via gerlos

Self-portrait with binoculars via gerlos

You’ve probably got a pair of binoculars lying around your house somewhere. They may be perfect – that’s right, perfect – for stargazing. Follow the links inside this post to learn more about the best deal around for people who want to get acquainted with the night sky: a pair of ordinary binoculars.

Summer Triangle: Altair and Aquila the Eagle

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In the east after dark, near the horizon, Altair, the brightest star in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle, springs into view. This is the bottom star of the Summer Triangle. In the sky, you’ll see that this bright star has a slightly fainter star on either side.

Eltanin and Rastaban are the Dragon’s eyes

Eltanin and Rastaban near bright star Vega

If you’re in a city or suburb, look for Eltanin and Rastaban near bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra. Do you know the Summer Triangle? If so, draw an imaginary line from the star Altair through the star Vega to find the Dragon’s eyes glaring at you from high overhead on July evenings and at nightfall in August.

Our human eyes and brains tend to pick out pairs of stars on the dome of night, especially if the two stars are relatively bright. Few such couplings represent true partner stars in space, however; rarely are the two stars gravitationally bound. Some well-known stellar pairs that are not truly bound include the two stars of the constellation Gemini the Twins – Castor and Pollux – as well as the Little Dipper’s bowl stars Kochab and Pherkad. On Northern Hemisphere summer nights, another famous pair of stars glares down at us from up high in the northern sky. These stars are Eltanin and Rastaban. They representing fiery Eyes of the constellation Draco the Dragon. Like many pairs of stars, these two look close together only because they are aligned on nearly the same line of sight, as seen from Earth. Follow the links inside to learn more.

Draco the Dragon on July evenings

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At nightfall on July evenings, the starlit Eyes of Draco the Dragon peer down from almost overhead at northerly latiutudes. These stars’ names are Eltanin and Rastaban. If the sun, Eltanin and Rastaban all were located the same distance from us, it’s thought that Eltanin would shine 600 times more brightly than our sun and that Rastaban would shine 950 times more brightly. Dragon’s eyes! Rrrrr!

Summer Triangle: Vega and its constellation Lyra

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More than any other month, July is the month of the Summer Triangle, made up of the brilliant stars Vega, Deneb and Altair. The brightest triangle star is Vega in the constellation Lyra. Vega is blue-white in color. It’s sometimes called the Harp Star.

The constellation Draco, great Dragon of the north

The constellation Draco the Dragon writes around the North Star, Polaris.  You'll find it between the Big Dipper and Little Dipper.

The constellation Draco the Dragon writes around the North Star, Polaris. You’ll find it between the Big Dipper and Little Dipper.

If you have a dark sky, try looking tonight for the constellation Draco the Dragon. That means looking northward at early evening, before the waning gibbous moon rises this evening. After tonight, the moon will rise roughly an hour later each night, affording you more hours of darkness for making your acquaintance with the celestial Dragon.

July 2014 guide to the five visible planets

By mid-July 2014, Jupiter has disappeared into the sunset glare, but, as darkness falls, Mars and the star Spica are closest to each other on our sky's dome for this year.  You can also see Saturn nearby.  Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Paulo Vinicius.  Thanks, Paulo!

By mid-July 2014, Jupiter has disappeared into the sunset glare, but, as darkness falls, Mars and the star Spica are closest to each other on our sky’s dome for this year. You can also see Saturn nearby. Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Paulo Vinicius. Thanks, Paulo!

By mid-July, Jupiter is gone. As darkness falls, Mars and star Spica are closest together for 2014, with Saturn nearby. Venus and Mercury east before dawn.

Big Dipper points to Polaris, helps find Thuban

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Draw a line through the Big Dipper’s “pointer stars” – Dubhe and Merak – to locate Polaris the North Star. As night deepens, the fainter stars of the Little Dipper spring into view. If your sky is very dark, look for a winding stream of stars between the Big and Little Dippers. Thuban is one of the stars here, part of the “tail” of the legendary constellation Draco the Dragon.