Boy, it’s a buggy time of year. Standing under an incredible Milky Way, I tried to picture all the insects between us and the stars — wayward moths, fireflies shaking green lanterns, mosquitos out for blood, spiders riding silk parachutes and many others too small to alert the senses.
Our planet is so intensely alive. July nights make you even more certain that life, so incredibly infectious, is busy eating and procreating on a million alien planets.
That’s probably how many planets hung overhead every single one invisible except the familiar faces Jupiter and Saturn. This is time of year you’re going to see more stars in the sky than any other season. Winter gets billed as best for stars. It is if we’re only talking the greatest number of bright stars, but if you go by total number, July’s got winter beat by a million miles.
In summer, we’re facing toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, where the stars are far more concentrated than in winter, when we look out toward the edge of the galaxy and into intergalactic space.
The Milky Way begins humbly in the far northern sky Perseus and the W of Cassiopeia and flows south through the Northern Cross, where it puffs up to become the Cygnus Star Cloud, an oval concentration of stars right at the naked eye limit that begs to be observed in binoculars. South of here, the milky band splits down the middle and continues through Aquila the Eagle and down into the Teapot (Sagittarius).
All along the way, stars are gathered in great billows or in small knots of star clusters or clusters wrapped in gaseous clouds called nebulae. Many are visible in ordinary binoculars. I find wide-angle 10x50s best for Milky Way observing because they offer good light gathering power and resolution while still being easy enough to handhold.
The next couple weeks will be ideal for Milky Way observing with the moon out of the sky.
A final note about last night’s aurora. It really did make an appearance, but by the time it showed (very late), it had shrunk back north and was only visible as a glow extending about 10° above the northern horizon. Too bad. So many of us anticipated a much bigger display. Just goes to show you, we still don’t know the aurora well enough to predict its behavior with anything close to precision.