Peer toward the mysterious center of the Milky Way tonight

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Tonight for July 13, 2011

Glenn wrote from Australia, “When is the best month to view the galactic center?” Glenn, the answer depends on what time of night you’re looking. But assuming you’re looking in the evening, July, August and September are grand months for gazing toward the famous Teapot asterism in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer – and imagining the center of our Milky Way galaxy, which is located approximately in this direction of space.

Tonight’s moon shines north – above, as seen from the northern hemisphere – the Teapot asterism in Sagittarius. In other words, as you gaze at tonight’s moon, you are gazing toward the heart of our Milky Way galaxy.

You might have a hard time seeing the actual Teapot asterism in the moonlight tonight. Try again in another week or so, once the moon leaves the evening sky. If you are familar with the famous Summer Triangle asterism, you can star-hop to the Teapot by drawing an imaginary line from star Deneb through the star Altair, and by extending this imaginary line about twice the Deneb/Altair distance.

Try it tonight. Then star-hop to the Teapot again on a dark night, so you can locate the great haze of stars in the direction of the galactic center. Many clusters of stars and nebulae can be seen with binoculars or telescopes in this region of the sky on a dark night.

And, although we can’t see directly into the heart of the galaxy (there’s too much gas and dust in the way), it’s possible to imagine making a journey of 30,000 light-years to the galaxy’s core. If we did that – according to modern-day astronomers – we would encounter the black hole at the galaxy’s heart.


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