Planetary gatherings and the Summer Triangle delight sky-watchers in a week when celebrations will turn eyes to skies full of brilliant lights.
Lord of the Rings. Late night on Monday, June 29, watch for the bright moon, parked in the constellation Scorpius, forming a stellar triangle pattern with orange Antares and the bright yellow, starlike Saturn.
Huddled together in the southern evening sky, these three celestial objects lie at distances that could not be more different. The moon is a mere 1.2 light-seconds away, and while Saturn and Antares may look similar in brightness, the planet sits 76 light-minutes from Earth and the red giant star is a whopping 600 light-years distant.
Venus and Jupiter in twilight. As darkness falls on on Tuesday, June 30, and on the next evening, look westward for a bright, close encounter between Venus and Jupiter. The pair of planets will appear to be only 0.3 degrees apart--about the same width as the quarter moon in the sky.
Check out our detailed viewer’s guide here.
Summer Triangle. While watching fireworks on Independence Day--Saturday, July 4--look for the iconic Summer Triangle riding high in the southern, late night sky.
Not a constellation by itself, the Summer Triangle offers a great three-for-one deal for backyard stargazers. The individual stars not only anchor the triangle but also act as a guide to three separate constellations.
Leading off the triangle at the top is the most brilliant of the group, Vega, which is part of the constellation Lyra, the harp. This powerhouse star, located about 25 light-years away, is twice the size of our sun and burns 50 times brighter. Not surprisingly, it ranks as the fifth brightest star in the entire sky.
The next point of the triangle is Altair, the eye of Aquila, the eagle. It’s the faintest of the three despite being the closest--only 17 light-years distant. According to romantic Chinese legend, Altair is a young man who is in love with the beautiful princess, Vega. Unfortunately, they are destined to be separated forever by the fast flowing river that is the Milky Way.
Finally, the lowest point in this celestial triangle is marked by Deneb, the tail of Cygnus, the swan. But don’t be fooled by its serene appearance. This monster is about 200 times the size of our sun and burns an astonishing 100,000 times brighter, making Vega seem puny by comparison.