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Look for Teapot toward galaxy’s center

Tonight – August 3, 2016 – look for the Teapot, an easy-to-see pattern of stars, located toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy. This month’s new moon came on August 2. On the night of August 3, the moon is – at most – a waxing crescent in the west after sunset, which sets shortly behind the sun. It’s still mostly gone from the evening sky, making this night an excellent time to trek out to the country for an edgewise view into our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

The chart above is aimed toward the galaxy’s center, which is located some 30,000 light-years away. Many people find it by locating the prominent Teapot in Sagittarius.

The Teapot is what’s called an asterism. It’s not an official constellation; it’s just a noticeable pattern of stars on our sky’s dome. The Teapot is the most familiar part of the constellation Sagittarius the Archer.

Notice the Teapot on the chart above, and in the photo below it, which more or less mirrors the chart.

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See the Teapot of Sagittarius in this photo? The center of the galaxy is located in this direction. This photo comes from EarthSky Facebook friend Lewistown StormWatcher, who posted it on August 17, 2013. Thank you, LS! Click here to expand image.

Unlike on the chart or photo, if you find a dark sky in the evening around now, you can look at the starlit band arcing completely across the sky. When you see this hazy arc, you are peering edgewise into our own Milky Way galaxy.

The starlit trail of the Milky Way seems to bulge just before it reaches the southern horizon. You can see this bulge in the night sky, and it marks the approximate location of the Milky Way’s center. This part of the Milky Way is vastly more spectacular in a dark night sky than it appears here on our chart!

The constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius lie in this direction as well.

The most important thing about seeing the Milky Way is to find a dark location. In the months of August, September and October – if you go someplace really dark – simply look up in the evening. The beautiful panorama will be waiting for you: a hazy band stretching all the way across the sky. The haze consists of myriads upon myriads of stars.

So take advantage of the the moon-free evenings, and go stargazing. And if you have them, bring along a pair of binoculars. If you scan with binoculars along the Milky Way, you’ll find many lovely clusters of stars. No need to know their names to enjoy them!

Bottom line: The center of the Milky Way lies in the direction of the Teapot in Sagittarius. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, look southward in the evening. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, look overhead.

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Deborah Byrd