Summer Stars

Summer is a good time to look at the night sky. There are some nice, clear star patterns to see. With no school, it may be possible for you to stay up a little later to look at stars. If your vacation takes you away from city lights, you may even see more stars than usual. Summer can be a great time of year to look for the beautiful cloud of light called the Milky Way

The three brightest stars in the summer sky make up the Summer Triangle. These stars are found in three different constellations. The stars are Vega, which is in Lyra, the harp or lyre; Altair, which is in Aquila, the eagle; and Deneb, found in Cygnus, the swan. 

Low in the southern part of the summer sky are two of the easiest zodiac constellations to find all year. These are Scorpius and Sagittarius. Scorpius looks like a scorpion with a long, fish hook-shaped tail. Sagittarius is supposed to look like an archer but to many people today it looks more like a teapot. Can you find them? 

Many students have heard of the zodiac but aren't sure what it is. The zodiac constellations are the 13 patterns of stars that line up with the earth's orbit around the sun. Here is a mental model of how the zodiac constellations relate to the sun and the earth. Imagine the sun as an apple at the center of a dinner plate and the earth as a pea rolling around the plate. The zodiac constellations would be like pictures lined up around the edge of the plate. As the earth revolves around the sun each year, it passes by the same patterns of stars at the same date, time, and place in the sky each year. 

So every August 15, Scorpius would be in the same place in the sky at 10 p.m. If you knew where the zodiac star patterns are, you would know which one was due to rise in the eastern part of the sky next. If the sun rose instead of a pattern of stars, you would say the sun was in the pattern of stars that you knew should be rising. So each part of the year came to have its own zodiac constellation, the constellation due to rise when the sun rose. There is really no good science behind astrology which believes that distant stars somehow affect what you are like or what your future will be.

Another good reason to find Sagittarius is that with a clear night and a dark spot to look from, the Milky Way, our own galaxy, seems to come right out of the teapot's spout.

Summer is also a great time of year to see "shooting stars." The Persied Shower, one of the best meteor showers of the year, is best about August 12. 

So go out this summer and see some of the wonders of the night sky. You will remember them for a long time.

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