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Find the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae

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Tonight for September 15, 2014

Take a dip in the Lagoon nebula (M8) and Trifid nebula (M20) on these September evenings, especially if you’re in a place where you can see the starlit band of the Milky Way. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, look in the south to southwest at nightfall and early evening to see the beautiful constellation Sagittarius just above the horizon. The famed Teapot asterism, part of Sagittarius, appears to be pouring tea from its spout towards the horizon. The Lagoon and Trifid nebulae are in this part of the sky.

From temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, look overhead to find Sagittarius and its famous Lagoon and Trifid nebulae.

M20, the Trifid nebula, via Fred Espenak's Messier gallery.

M20, the Trifid nebula, via Fred Espenak’s Messier gallery.

M8, the Lagoon Nebula, via Fred Espenak's Messier gallery.

M8, the Lagoon Nebula, via Fred Espenak’s Messier gallery.

How to find the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae. So you’ve located the constellation Sagittarius and its famous Teapot asterism. Be aware that, as you sweep around the area of the Teapot with your binoculars, you will come across many fuzzy objects: blobs of stars. There are lots of open clusters and star-forming nebulae to look at in the region, but we are on the hunt for two in particular.

To find the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae, go to the spout of the Teapot. If you are in dark skies and can see the Milky Way streaming up from the horizon, you may notice a black area with two little fuzz balls in it that look like puffs of steam. If you are in suburbs or cities, you may notice just a fuzzy star above the spout. The fuzzy star or fuzz balls are the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae, aka M8 and M20.

When you look at them, you are seeing two star-forming regions toward the heart of our Milky Way galaxy.

The Trifid is a little dimmer than the Lagoon. Trifid got its name because in photographs it has three distinct lobes. The Lagoon got its name because it looks like a round pool just outside the ocean of the Milky Way.

What’s cool about the Lagoon nebula is that you can see some of the stars that have formed from these clouds of gas. You might not spot it with binoculars, but those with small telescopes may notice a small cluster of stars within the nebula. This cluster is known as NGC 6530.

By late autumn and winter, these nebulae will drift out of the evening sky.

Map showing the constellation Sagittarius and the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae.  The Lagoon is M8.  The Trifid is M20.  Map via amateurstargazing.blogspot

Map showing the constellation Sagittarius and the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae. The Lagoon is M8. The Trifid is M20. Map via amateurstargazing.blogspot

Bottom line: Take a dip in the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae on these September evenings, especially if you’re in a place where you can see the starlit band of the Milky Way.

Read more about the Lagoon Nebula, Messier 8

Read more about the Trifid Nebula, M20