The night sky is a vast and wonderous place. During the summer, one of the best areas of the sky to view with optical aid is the constellation Sagittarius. Sagittarius is the teapot-shaped constellation in the lower southern sky just after nightfall. It contains a myriad of celestial objects for viewing, including nebulae, star clusters, and currently, the dwarf planet Pluto is found in Sagittarius.
One of the reasons Sagittarius contains so many stellar objects is because the center of the Milky Way galaxy lies in the direction of Sagittarius, making it a dense region. The Milky Way is visible on a dark, clear night, stretching from the constellation of Cassiopeia (the “W”) in the northeast, through the center of Cygnus (the cross overhead), through Sagittarius in the southwest.
Once you have found the teapot in the southern sky, I recommend just slowly scanning the sky. With open star clusters, globular clusters, and nebulae aplenty, there is a high probability that you’ll spot at least one of these, even if you have no idea where precisely to look. Ever present in the background are an untold number of stars that circle the center of our galaxy.
One of the must-see objects is the Lagoon Nebula, also known as Messier 8. It is one of the easiest nebulae to spot, along with the Orion Nebula in the winter months. It can be spotted with binoculars. It appears as a grayish cloud on one side, and a small patch of stars on the other side. Lagoon Nebula contains a lot of newly forming stars and proto-stars. Not a great deal of detail can be made out with amateur equipment, but it is still a sight worth seeing!
The Eagle Nebula, a.k.a. Messier 16 is located nearby the Lagoon Nebula. It is most famous for the Hubble Space Telescope’s image of it, dubbed “Pillars of Creation”, beacuse this nebula is also rich in newly formed and forming stars. Color in the nebulae are generally not noticable in a telescope due to limitations in the human eye. Long exposure photos are usually required to make out color. Instead, they appear as grayish cloud-like objects. Still, viewing nebulae like the Eagle and Lagoon offer a glimpse into the birth of our own sun and are worth viewing.
There are also several globular clusters located in Sagittarius. Globular clusters are similar in appearance to one another, but are still are intruiging objects to view. It is wonderous to see so many stars packed together so tightly. Thousands of stars packed into an area of just a few light years! They could be areas of dense stellar formation, or possibly the cores of smaller galaxies swallowed and assimilated billions of years ago. Whereas a few globular clusters are visible with binoculars, telescopes are necessary to resolve individual stars within these clusters.
Sagittarius makes a great target for beginners and experiences skywatchers alike with it’s abundance and assortment in stellar objects, and they’re fairly easy to find. There are plenty more than I have listed here! If you need a target at which to point your telescope or binoculars, look no further than the teapot. See how many objects you can find!
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