Quick sky guide for fireworks watchers

Watching fireworks last night at a neighbor's house. Photo: Bob King

Plan on watching the 4th of July fireworks tomorrow night? If you do, and the weather’s good, why not cast a look around the sky during twilight to see what cosmic gems are gleaming while you’re waiting for the show to start.

For many of us, summer is the easiest time to be a stargazer, because we don’t have to layer up against winter’s bite. Spread out a blanket or crack open a lawn chair, relax and enjoy. A bowl of cut-up watermelon resting on your stomach for snacking doesn’t hurt either. It makes me feel like royalty. Sky watching is one of the best free things in the world.

I’ve prepared four maps, one for each direction, and labelled the brightest objects of interest. Except for the moon map, they depict the sky around 1 1/2 hours after sunset. Highlights of the western sky tonight (July 3) and tomorrow night are the lunar crescent and Mercury. The northern sky features the beloved Big Dipper and W of Cassiopeia. Look south for the giant triangle of Arcturus, Spica and Saturn, and don’t forget Antares, glowing like an everlasting spark. In the east, we greet the trio of stars forming the Summer Triangle. Will you be able to find them all? Drop me a line or post in the Comments and I’ll share your observations.

Some cities across the middle and southern U.S. (not Duluth, Minn.) will also be able to see an early evening pass of the International Space Station on the 4th. Click HERE and type in your zip code to find out.

This map shows the sky about 30 minutes after sunset tonight and tomorrow night. The moon should be fairly easy to spot, but you'll need haze-free skies and an open view to the west to find Mercury. All maps created with Stellarium

The Big Dipper's always a favorite. It hangs vertically during twilight in early July. Use the two stars at the end of the Dipper Bowl to point you to the North Star, Polaris. In the northeastern sky, the W of Cassiopeia the Queen is making her return appearance.

Face east and you can't miss brilliant Vega way up high. As the sky gets darker, Deneb and Altair pop into view. Deneb is two outstretched fists to the left of Vega; Altair is three fists below. As sky darkens further, look for the outline of the Northern Cross.

The southwestern sky features the giant triangle of Arcturus, Spica and Saturn. Arcturus is highest with a distinct pinkish-orange color. Lower in the south, Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion glows red.

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