21 August 2011

Seeing the Milky Way in City Skies

Summers bring pleasant viewing and a wealth of richness in the heavens. As the Summer Triangle rises and dominates the night sky, two of my favorite Zodiac constellations, Scorpius and Sagittarius, are visible deep in the southern sky. These big, bold constellations combine with the Summer Triangle to guide the urban star-gazer to the Milky Way.

For anyone who has seen the spectacle of the Milky Way in dark skies, you know just how profound this band of light looks as we view our own galaxy from within. And I know how disappointing it is after a few days in dark skies, to return to the city and realize that the beauty of the Milky Way is missing. But don't despair, for even in urban settings, you can still see many of the wonders of the Milky Way. To do this, you need to use a telescope or binoculars. Using Scorpius and Sagittarius as your anchor on the southern horizon, and the Summer Triangle high above, point the telescope or binoculars into the sky and move slowly from the south slowly overhead. You are looking into the Milky Way, and with the magnification and light-gathering of a telescope or binoculars, you cut through the glow of the city lights and enhance the light from space. And that will be a rewarding moment under the sky. No need for a fancy star chart or an iPhone app. All you need is a sense of wonder and a comfortable chair.


Anonymous said...

Do you think that the San Rafael harbor is a good place to see the Dec 10 eclipse?

The Urban Astronomer said...

Hello Anonymous - For Dec 10th, the eclipse will be visible while the Moon is in the western part of the sky. My assumption is that Bay-facing communities in Marin will not have a good western horizon due to the extensive mountains and hills. You will be better off on the coast. If the weather is good, the view of the eclipsed Moon over the ocean will be outstanding.

Good luck!

- Paul