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Look toward the center of the Milky Way galaxy


Tonight for August 23, 2014

Today’s chart (top of post) is aimed toward the galaxy’s center, which is located some 30,000 light-years away. Many people find it by locating the prominent asterism known as the Teapot in the constellation Sagittarius. Notice the Teapot on our chart and in the photo below. With the moon gone from the evening sky, this is an excellent time to trek out to the country for an edgewise view into our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

But if you’re more of an early bird than a night owl, be sure to get an eyeful of the morning tableau before dawn. Venus and Jupiter, the third-brightest and fourth-brightest brightest celestial bodies after the sun and moon, sit low over the eastern horizon. If you’re real lucky, you might even catch the old waning crescent moon. Click here to find out how much before sunrise that the moon rises into your sky.

It'll be extremely hard to catch the old waning crescent moon before sunrise on August 24.

It’ll be extremely hard to catch the old waning crescent moon before sunrise on August 24.

This evening, however, you’ll be looking at the starlit band arcing completely across the sky – visible from country locations. You are peering edgewise into our own Milky Way galaxy. We tell you more below below.

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.

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.

The chart at the top of this post shows that 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.

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: How can you find the center of our Milky Way galaxy? First, go to a dark, country location – far from city lights. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, look southward in the evening to locate the Teapot of the constellation Sagittarius. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, look overhead. The center of the Milky Way lies in the direction of the Teapot in Sagittarius.

Can you show me a detailed view of the Milky Way center?

M6 and M7: Deep-sky gems in the Tail of Scorpius