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Summer Triangle, signpost for all seasons

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Tonight for March 16, 2015

On a moonless night, an edgewise view of the galactic disk - and the Dark Rift - pass right through the Summer Triangle. Photo credit: cipdatajeffb

On a moonless night, an edgewise view of the galactic disk – and the Dark Rift – pass right through the Summer Triangle. Photo credit: cipdatajeffb

Tonight, look for the Summer Triangle. It’s not summer for our northern temperate latitudes, but the three brilliant stars of the Summer Triangle – Vega, Deneb and Altair – are out for at least part of the night every night of the year. Presently, the Summer Triangle shines in the eastern predawn sky. You can often see this star formation from light-polluted areas.

Like the Big Dipper, the Summer Triangle is an asterism – a pattern of stars that is not one of the officially recognized 88 constellations. To gauge the size of this signpost star formation, hold a ruler an arm’s length from your eye. The ruler pretty much fills the gap between Vega and Altair, the Summer Triangle’s first and second brightest stars, respectively.

Like all the stars, the stars of the Summer Triangle rise four minutes earlier every day, or two hours earlier every month. Why is this happening? It’s happening because Earth is orbiting the sun, and our night sky is pointing out on an ever-changing panorama of stars.

Around May Day – May 1 – the Summer Triangle will climb over the eastern horizon around local midnight (1 a.m. daylight saving time). When middle to late June comes rolling along, you’ll see the Summer Triangle sparkling in the east at evening dusk – a sure sign of summer’s return to the Northern Hemisphere.

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Nils Ribi caught this photo of the Summer Triangle on a northern autumn evening - November 8, 2014.  View larger and read Nils' story of this photo.

Nils Ribi caught this photo of the Summer Triangle on a northern autumn evening – November 8, 2014. View larger and read Nils’ story of this photo.

Bottom line: The Summer Triangle can be seen for most of the year. Its three brilliant stars – Vega, Deneb and Altair – are up before dawn in March, before midnight in May and at dusk on the summer solstice.

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