The Teapot guides you to the galactic center
What is the Teapot?
But these same stars also make up what skywatchers call the Teapot in Sagittarius. And the Teapot is simple to spot. The Teapot is an asterism in the western part of the constellation.
It’s best viewed during the evening hours from about July to September. Best of all, when you’re looking toward the Teapot, you’re also looking toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy.
How to spot the Teapot
Unlike many star patterns, the Teapot actually looks like the object for which it’s named. The Teapot has a handle, spout and lid like a traditional teapot. Head to a dark rural location for your best views of this Milky Way region.
Because the sun passes in front of Sagittarius from about December 18 to January 20, the Teapot isn’t visible then. However, about half a year later – on July 1 – the Teapot climbs to its highest point for the night around midnight (1 a.m. Daylight Saving Time or DST), when it appears due south as seen from the Northern Hemisphere or due north as seen from the Southern Hemisphere.
As seen from our mid-northern latitudes, the Teapot rises in the southeast about three hours before it climbs to its highest point. The Teapot sets in the southwest about three hours afterward.
The Teapot returns to the same place in the sky about four minutes earlier with each passing day, or two hours earlier with each passing month. On August 1, the Teapot climbs to its highest point around 10 p.m. (11 p.m. DST). On September 1, it climbs highest around 8 p.m. (9 p.m. DST). On October 1, it’s highest around 6 p.m. (7 p.m. DST).
Another noteworthy point lies in this direction in space, the point at which the sun shines on the December solstice, around December 21 each year.
The center of our Milky Way
Once you’ve found the Teapot, assuming you have a dark sky, you can see “steam” billowing out of the spout. Gaze into the midst of this “steam” – into the thickest part of it – and you’ll be gazing toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy.
The center of the galaxy is some 30,000 light-years away. We can’t directly into it, because this region is shrouded by dust and gas clouds. But studies of astronomers have shown that, when we look in this direction, we’re looking toward the supermassive black hole located at our galaxy’s heart. This black hole has some 4 million times our sun’s mass. It’s known as Sagittarius A*.
Now sweep the area around the Teapot with binoculars or a telescope. You’ll see many faint fuzzy objects pop into view. They’re star clusters and nebulae (gas clouds) located in the disk of our galaxy, in the direction toward the galaxy’s center.
Bottom line: When you’re looking at the famous asterism of the Teapot in Sagittarius, you’re looking toward the center of the Milky Way galaxy.