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. But you’ll have to wait till after nightfall to see these deep-sky treasures. A dark country sky and binoculars are your ticket to this nighttime drama.
While it is still evening dusk, however, look westward to get an eyeful of the blazing planet Venus close to the horizon. Then look for the golden planet Saturn above Venus. You may need binoculars see the star Spica. Catch the threesome soon after sunset, for Venus and Spica set at nightfall and Saturn sets by early to mid-evening.
Once it gets good and dark, seek for the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae. 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.
As you sweep around the area of the Teapot with your binoculars, you will come across several 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.
How to find the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae. Now 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, or Messier Objects 8 and 20. You are seeing two star-forming regions toward the heart of our 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 moniker because it looks like a round pool just outside the ocean of the Milky Way.
What’s really cool about the Lagoon is that you can see some of the stars that have formed from 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. Be sure to take a dip in the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae on this moonless September evening.