A princess, two queens and a virgin. There are four females in the sky – Andromeda (princess), Coma Berenices (queen), Cassiopeia (queen) and Virgo (virgin) – and one of them is asserting her authority once again. Cassiopeia, the W-shaped constellation, crouches low in the northern sky from May through June. For many of us, it’s lost in the trees or simply too close to the horizon to notice. Not anymore.
The past few nights have been clear and the Queen of July has been on the rise in the northeastern sky. Take a minute the next time you’re out to pay your respects, and don’t forget to grab the binoculars.
Just a “binocular field of view” below the W’s left side is one of the finest star clusters in the sky. It’s two clusters really, in a gravitation embrace thousands of light years from Earth. Amateur astronomers know it by the simple name the Double Cluster. You’ll revel in the many tiny sparks of starlight hovering around their clumpy cores like moths around a streetlamp.
Don’t leave just yet. Below the middle of the W, look for the cluster named after the extraterrestrial ET in the Steven Spielberg movie.
You’ll need a small telescope to see the gangly arms and two “eyes” that give the cluster its nickname, but even binoculars will show a bright star with a peppering of fainter ones around it.
I think of two things when I see Cassiopeia on the rise again – next month’s Perseid meteor shower and fall nights, when the constellation stares down from on high and the bugs are vanquished.
Another northern constellation looks most like its name in July. Almost all of us have seen the Big Dipper, now high in the northwestern sky at nightfall, but have you taken the next step and traced the outline of the bear it represents?
The Great Bear or Ursa Major covers a huge portion of the sky. Once you connect the dots, you’ll be impressed with its size and bear-like outline. The posture or stance is just right too – there’s a certain aggressiveness to the figure as it bears down (pardon the pun) on the northern horizon.