It’s time, once again, for Astronomy Cast to go on hiatus. You’ve got a couple of months on your own to explore the night sky. Before we say goodbye, though, we’d like to make a few suggestions.
VIDEO: Virtual Star Party season finale, 28 June 2020
VIDEO PLAYLIST: Open Space
VIDEO: Weekly Space Hangout season finale, 1 July 2020
The Daily Space (CosmoQuest)
VIDEO PLAYLIST: Fraser’s Guide to Space
Summer triangle (Earthsky.org)
Messier 57 (The Ring Nebula) (NASA Goddard)
Albireo, beloved double star (Earthsky)
Stargazing with binoculars: a beginner’s guide (BBC Sky at Night)
Meet M13, the Great Cluster in Hercules (Earthsky)
The Constellation Sagittarius (Inthesky.org)
Planets visible in the night sky (Timeanddate.com)
Mars Perseverance (NASA)
Jupiter gives us Pluto in 2020 (Earthsky)
4th of July eclipse to kick off busy month for astronomy (Accuweather)
What’s in the Sky July 2020 (OPT Corp)
Perseid meteors 2020: All you need to know (Earthsky)
Night Sky Network: Local astronomy groups (NASA JPL)
Messier 27 (The Dumbbell Nebula) (NASA Goddard)
Messier 31 (The Andromeda Galaxy) (NASA Goddard)
Travel Destination: World’s First Dark Sky Island (Universe Today)
Tiny Island of Niue Is World’s First ‘Dark Sky Nation’ (How Stuff Works)
What Is the Solar Cycle? (NASA)
Fraser: Astronomy Cast, Episode 576, our summer stargazing special. Welcome to Astronomy Cast, our weekly facts-based journey through the cosmos where we help you understand not only what we know, but how we know we what we know.
I’m Frazer Cain, publisher of Universe Today. With me, as always, is Dr. Pamela Gay, a senior scientist for the Planetary Science Institute and the director of CosmoQuest.
Hey, Pamela, how you doing?
Pamela: I’m doing well. How are you doing, Fraser?
Fraser: Good. So, this is the final episode of Astronomy Cast –
Pamela: Although I’m hoping –
Fraser: – until our – until our – I’ve – I’ve got to finish what I was going to say otherwise –
Fraser: – people will panic.
Fraser: All right, our final episode of Astronomy Cast for our summer hiatus.
Pamela: [Inaudible] [00:00:49].
Fraser: Until we’re back on in September.
Fraser: So, this is – this is the summer break that we take every summer for two months. Okay, what were you going to say?
Pamela: I – I’m hoping that I will be able to get us together during the CosmoQuest-a-Con in July. And so, folks, if you’re trying to figure out to do this summer to get your astronomy fix, we are, over at CosmoQuest, hosting two-and-a-half days of panels, performances and science and creative awesome, so, go check it out. It’s linked to on cosmoquest,org. This is our CosmoQuest-a-Con. We have – we have Dennis Taylor, the author of the Bobiverse books.
Fraser: That’s –
Pamela: We have –
Fraser: – awesome.
Pamela: We have so many cool people. Our guests of honor, we have Amy Davis Roth, is the artist guest of honor. She’s going to be painting a telescope that will be up for auction. We Dr. Erin MacDonald, who is the science advisor for Star Trek Discovery. She is going to be our sci-con guest of honor. And Scott Manley is our gamer guest of honor.
Fraser: Right on. Oh, man, Scott – Scott is a one-man party. You just point the –
Pamela: He really is.
Fraser: – camera at Scott Manley and then you guys can all just take a break for an hour and then come back and – and audience will be entertained. Yeah, it’s – he’s a – he’s – he’s so great to have as a guest. I’ve done a couple of live shows with him, and he’s just – and he’s so much fun. And then Dennis Taylor, of course, from the Bobiverse, which is great because you were the one that told me about the Bobiverse books. I read them. Loved them. Tracked down the author, did an interview, and then you guys were able to get him as a guest on the show, which is so terrific.
Pamela: It all feeds in.
Fraser: He’s local too. He lives in my neighborhood.
Pamela: That’s awesome.
Fraser: Yeah, he just lives in – on – in Vancouver. So, just to – just to clarify exactly what’s going to happen, of course, this is the last – like I said, the last episode of Astronomy Cast before the summer hiatus. We’ve got the last episode of the Virtual Star Party coming up on Sunday. Of course, if you’re listening to this via podcast method it will have already happened, but you can watch it afterwards. One last episode of My Open Space, which is going to be on Monday. One last episode of the Weekly Space Hangout, which is going to be on Wednesday.
I’m not sure which of your things go on hiatus and which things remain.
Pamela: We’re – we’re going to be taking the week after Fourth of July off for Daily Space.
Pamela: But we’ll otherwise be continuing perhaps on a shortened schedule for the rest of the summer.
Pamela: But Your Guide to Space will keep coming as well.
Fraser: Yeah, of course. So, we’ll – I still – I’m still going to be doing the Guide to Space on YouTube. I’m still going to be doing my question shows. I – I will probably be doing random telescope streams on either Twitch or YouTube, either for interesting events that happen, or for technology, or methodologies that we’re trying to test out. So, again, we will not be gone. We will just be not livestreaming with the same level of regularity. And – and hopefully taking a little bit of a break as well. It’ important. You should – we should all do this.
You – you go work so hard all the time and you forget you do need that downtime as well to replenish your energy and to make you excited about the projects that you’re working on, and it’s vital. So, consider taking a hiatus as well.
Anyway, let’s get into the show. It’s time once again for Astronomy Cast to go on hiatus. You’ve got a couple of months on your own to explore the night sky, but before we say good-bye, we’d like to make a few suggestions. And I think it’s important that we are going to have a totally northern hemisphere perspective here.
Pamela: We’re sorry.
Fraser: We’re sorry, but we just – we just live in the northern – summer is the warm time in our minds. July, August, that’s when the heat arrives. For the folks in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, we understand that – that these recommendations will not be quite as relevant, but we’ll try to make the distinction about what things you can enjoy as well, but –
Pamela: But with your longer nights.
Fraser: With your longer nights, yeah. Many of the objects you see the same things, but it’s just, it’s colder. It’s not – it’s not – it’s not as much fun to go outside and hang out.
What can people see this summer?
Pamela: Well, I – I think the most important thing to go out and try and do, is just observe our Milky Way. Find yourself a hammock, a lawn chair, some way to just lie back and relax. Use your binoculars. Borrow someone else’s binoculars if you don’t have any. And just explore that band of light that goes through dark skies.
The Summer Triangle, which is Altair, Vega and Deneb really will help you find – well, one of the cooler regions, that Summer Triangle. While we have the Ring Nebula not too far away from Vega, Cygnus is home of Albireo, which is one of the coolest double stars in the sky with one extremely red star and one extremely blue star that become visible with –
Fraser: Oh, yeah.
Pamela: – magnification.
Pamela: Just – just explore as a –
Pamela: – starting point. Make no plans except to figure out where the Milky Way is and just scan along – along it looking for faint fuzzies.
Fraser: And – and this is – I mean, for – for you, I’m not sure how good of a Milky Way view you have there. I have a very good view to the sky, but I still – it’s worth heading out of town to get away from the light pollution, to get to those truly dark skies. And I know for a lot of people you look at the dark sky maps, for the folks on the East Coast, and it’s – it’s a nightmare. There’s –
Fraser: You – you will have to go, but if – but this is the kind of event that – that if you have not experienced the Milky Way with your own eyes, or if you have not – and you’re looking for something to do this summer, it’s a perfect, like, socially distance activity because you can take your family, hop in the car, plan an evening where you drive out – maybe you’re going to take a couple of hours, but anywhere on the East Coast you can get to dark skies with a couple of hours, even from the core of New York City, if you’re able to – to drive. There’s some forests that are a couple of hours away where you can see the Milky Way, no problem.
And just go. Plan a night of it. Leave a little late. Let people sleep in the car while you drive out there, and so you can arrive at, like – in the evening, and get a beautiful view of – of the night sky, or set up early and then everyone – let everyone pass out, and then have an alarm clock go off at, like, one in the morning and get everybody up to be able to see it. But you should do this. And it’s – there’s no reason not to.
Pamela: Camping is somewhat safe.
Fraser: Yeah. Yeah. Outside. Away from other people. Yeah.
Pamela: It’s – it’s the restroom that you have to worry about, but campgrounds are open and some of the primitive campgrounds are about as safe as you can get because you’re away from everything, except for the racoons, always hang your garbage up.
Fraser: Right, yeah. Or leave it in the car. But, yeah, I think, that – that is great. And so, what are the – what are the ways that people can get the most out of the Milky Way?
Pamela: Honestly, the best thing that you can do is start out where you know where you are on the sky. This is where using the Summer Triangle and the extremely bright star, Vega, as a starting point, can be a great way to get yourself orientated. Find that bight Vega, use it to figure out where Deneb is for Cygnus is the swan, use it to find Altair for Aquila. Once you’re oriented, stick your binoculars in the middle and scan – and every time you time something faint and fuzzy, pause and then either use your phone of finding chart to figure out what amazing nebula it is you found this time.
This is the cool thing about just streaming through with your binoculars is you’re just going to keep finding nebule, star cluster nebula, start cluster one after another.
Fraser: Yeah. It’s globular start cluster season, so you can see in Hercules, there’s couple. There’s a bunch all scattered around, and because we’re seeing them above and below the disc of the Milky Way, and so when we’re able to start seeing the core of the Milky Way these are all starting to rise up in the sky as well. So, again, Milky Way, and again if you have not seen that, knock that off your list. This is your chance, this summer, best time.
Pamela: And Sagittarius, in the heart of our galaxy, is up in the evening for part of the summer, so it’s perfectly timed for the family, and – and this gives you a chance to say, “I am looking at a super massive black hole right now.” You can’t see it.
Fraser: You can’t see it, it’s a black hole.
Pamela: But you’re looking in the correct direction, and – and so that’s just one of those moments of finding your place in the universe of I am standing here on this planet, looking at the heart of me galaxy and in that direction there’s a super massive black hole.
Fraser: When I was in Australia in July, so I guess, it was around that time, and it was their winter, but it was still very warm because I was fairly far north. You could see the core of the Milky Way just passing directly overhead. Absolutely stunning. And then because where I was, the skies were so dark you could see those nebulae as these little faint reddish patches in the sky when you looked with binoculars, or when you took a picture with your – with your camera. You got to see.
We – we always see these gigantic nebulae that’s been taken through a telescope, but it’s amazing to put those into perspective when you take just a whole picture of – to the sky. You can see where all these little objects are. And they’re all in that core of the Milky Way. And – and the – the classic constellation is Sagittarius and once you learn to find Sagittarius, once you learn that teapot, you’ll always be able to find it. In fact, you’ll see it on photographs. I’ve – every time I see a photograph of the Milky Way, I can see the teapot. I know where the – where they pointed it.
Pamela: And if you want to get started right now while – while Sagittarius will be up in the evening at the end of summer. Right now you have to get up early in the morning, but it’s worth it because Jupiter and Saturn and Sagittarius are all up in the south right now in the pre-dawn hours.
Fraser: So – so let’s talk about the planets then.
Pamela: So, we have Jupiter is coming into opposition, which means it’s going to be opposite from the sun relative to the earth in the sky, in July, meaning it’s going to be up pretty much the entire night. Saturn is nearby, trailing it slightly to the west, and –
Pamela: – it’s just a great chance to get out and – and Mars is a few fields away. They aren’t all lined up together. But – but Mars is going to be the third of the brightest planets in the morning sky this month. And – and so get up early in the morning and you’ve – you’ve got a trio of the cool three; Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. And you can actually make out features on all these if you have a –
Pamela: – small telescope.
Fraser: Already, yeah. I mean, obviously we –we always recommend that – that you can see Jupiter in a small telescope. You can see the moons. You can see the bands across the planet. You can see the – the great red spot. With Saturn, obviously you can see the rings, no problem. With Mars, you can see the polar ice caps. And if you’ve got a better telescope, you can start to see some of the – the darker features on the surface of Mars, itself. It’s a – and – and we’re nearing that window when – when spacecraft are sent to Mars. That – that’s – I think the – the Perseverance Rover is going to be going to Mars in July…
Pamela: July 22nd, is its current planned launch date.
Pamela: So, this is another thing that doesn’t quite fall under stargazing, but is a summer space event to look forward to. This is the one big science launch we’re going to get this summer. And the window is long. If it gets delayed a little bit, because it is hurricane season after all, we’re fine. It’s got time. And so as long as it gets up before the end of August, we’re good.
Fraser: That’s amazing, yeah. So, you’ve got – you’ve got the planets, and – and some of the less visible planets – I learned this on the Weekly Space Hangout this week, from Pam Hoffman, there’s going to be a Jupiter Pluto conjunction coming up in a couple of weeks.
Pamela: That’s wild.
Fraser: And so, a conjunction is when two planets are close together in the sky and generally Pluto’s a really tough planet to be able to see because you don’t know where it is. It’s just a dot. I called it a planet. Awe, poor Pluto. But in this case, if you have Jupiter nearby as a reference point, then you can compare and figure out where the – the two are, and they’ll be relatively close together. So, if you want to take a really extreme planet hunting challenge, you can find Pluto.
Pamela: And Neptune’s out there. And Neptune is completely visible and it’s not too far in the sky, I believe, away from Mars. Let me double check that while we chat.
Fraser: And then Venus is coming up as an object in the morning sky, and even Mercury is up. So, this is going to be great summer for being able to see all of the planets pretty much, and Pluto. I’m not sure where Uranus is, but…
Pamela: And – and Neptune is currently a morning object near Mars.
Fraser: Yeah, so there –
Pamela: And – and –
Fraser: – you go.
Pamela: So, – and you can see Neptune, it’s – it’s right within the filed of view of binoculars as this pale blue dot. And to imagine that it took so long to find it, and now it’s something that we can casually look at in our backyard is pretty amazing.
Fraser: Yeah, absolutely. So, it’s – set yourself the challenge this summer, visually spot Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars Binocularly, go after Neptune – again, I’m not sure where Uranus is. I have to check my Stellarium. And then telescopically see if you can go after Pluto.
Pamela: And don’t forget, as we said, explore Sagittarius.
Fraser: Fair enough.
Pamela: Explore the – the Milky Way. And if you’re trying to do the, okay, so – so when do I want to go do this? Well, August is your answer. Do you know what, Fraser?
Pamela: Perseids. And – and the Perseids this year are going to be cursed with a third-quarter moon unfortunately. So, it’s – it’s not as ideal as it could be without that moon in the early morning hours. Around August 12th you’d be seeing meteor and meteor with roughly one per minute. It’s unclear exactly how many will be seen, because of the moon, but just go out early when the moon is still low on the horizon, or even before it’s even come up and take a look. The – the Perseids are called that because the meteors will appear to radiate away from the constellation, Perseus. But, you know, there’s actually meteors any night you go out. So, really just go out, look up, you’ll see meteors. It’s cool.
Fraser: Yeah, the – and the – the Perseids are – are a pretty good meteor shower. They’re not the best meteor shower, but they are the most civilized. For the northern hemisphere they are the one you can enjoy in the warmth of the summer, and so you can go out in your shorts and t-shirt, lie back, watch the sky, and catch meteors. But as you said, you can see meteors any night, but you see more during these meteor showers, and – and it’s just like another thing to be able to see, which is great.
Pamela: And normally we would tell you to go out and find an astronomy club and check out a whole bunch of telescopes, because you don’t need your own.
Pamela: But –
Fraser: Not this summer.
Pamela: Maybe not this year.
Fraser: Yeah. Maybe next year.
Pamela: But there’s a bunch of telescopes online, so if you’re someone that doesn’t want to risk leaving your house. Doesn’t want to risk traveling anywhere to get dark skies, look at – well, Fraser has the Virtual Star Party that he does. There’s the good folks at Slooh. Oceanside Photo and Telescope has been streaming.
Fraser: Like, crazy, yeah.
Pamela: Yeah, so there’s all of these opportunities you have to get to know the summer sky.
Fraser: Twitch actually has a lot of people doing some live streams. And I think I know of, like, probably four or five people that do regular live streams with their telescope to be able to show you the night sky.
Pamela: And – and there’s a discord that we’ll link to in our show notes where a lot of these folks are starting to get together. This is being organized in part by Bill Nash and Dustin Gibson. And so instead of going out and looking through eyepieces the way we’d normally recommend, go out and look through webcams.
Pamela: It’s a way of hanging out and enjoying the sky together.
Fraser: And so, for those of us in the northern hemisphere seeing satellites, it’s a great time to be able to see satellites because they are well positioned, illuminated for a large part of their – or their path across the – across the sky. Especially for here in Canada, we can often see two passes of the International Space Station 90 minutes apart, visible for the entire pass. So, we’ll watch the International Space Station go overhead, come back out 90 minutes later and watch it do the whole thing again.
Also, like, I think, today, when we’re filming this, there’s going to be another Starlink launch. And, of course –
Pamela: It’s delayed.
Fraser: Oh, has it been delayed, okay.
Fraser: But – but in general after the Starlink launches and they’re – they’re going to be going up every couple of weeks, so you’ll have lots of opportunities over the summer, you can find out from places like Heavens Above, when there’s going to be a Starlink pass and it’s pretty great to see this train of 60 satellites that are either visible or binocular visible just pass across in one big line, it’s very surreal. It feels like you’re looking at UFOs or something.
And then over time they – they drift farther and farther apart and they move up to their final altitudes and – but in – at – right after that launch try to time going outside with being able to watch a Starlink trail pass over where you are.
Pamela: It’s really surreal.
Fraser: Yeah, really surreal.
Pamela: It’s – it’s – this – this perfectly straight line of moving dots in formation going across the sky. I’ve – I’ve never imagined something that would look quite like this and – while it’s cool to see one, we’re hoping that we never get more than one train at a time up there.
Pamela: But while we have this go check it out. It’s kind of cool.
Fraser: Yeah. Yeah. What else can people see this summer?
Pamela: Those – those are really the big things that you don’t need a telescope for. Now, if you’re willing to get that telescope, get that particularly amazing pair of binoculars, this is where you should start trying to dig into the Mazzei catalog. Highlights of the summer Hercules cluster, M13, which you mentioned earlier. Some people call it the Chrysanthemum cluster. There’s that Ring Nebula, just two binocular fields away from Vega. There’s also, again Summer Triangle, it – it’s rich hunting, people.
Pamela: There’s the Dumbbell Nebula. And this really is the time to get to know so many objects. My favorites that start coming up early – early in the morning we get Andromeda. I know that’s kind of like low picking fruit, everyone loves Andromeda, but know you know, it’s early in the morning. Apparently, everything cool is early in the morning right now.
Fraser: But that’s always the experience that you have because it’s been a year since you’ve seen these things, and so you’re desperate to be able to – to see the Orion Nebula again. And then it starts to show up in the morning and you get up so that you can actually see it. And then it – and then it moves every night it comes a little early – a little earlier until it’s just – there’s Orion in the evening sky in December.
Pamela: And – and one of my favorite random astronomy factoids is this dog days of summer that I remember hearing about on lemonade commercials as a little kid, that dog days of summer is referring to the star, Sirius. And the – the two dog constellations, Canis Major and Canis Minor, that accompany Orion, in August, Sirius rises right before the sun. And it was thought that the extra light from Sirius was what contributed to August being such a northern hemisphere miserable month.
Pamela: And so, it’s the dog days of summer because of Canis Major and Canis Minor.
Fraser: Yeah. So, you’re talking about getting binoculars. There are a bunch of comets that you can see in the sky this summer. We’ve got a couple of articles, Dave Dickinson has been writing a bunch of stuff on – on Universe Today, the one – there’s a new one, E6 Lemmon I think, but we’re going to have a whole bunch of opportunities to see various comets coming and going over the summer.
But through July this one specific comet should get bright enough that you can actually see it with the unaided eye and definitely in a pair of binoculars. So, we’ve got T2 PanSTARRS, C/19Y1, C/19 Y4 (ATLAS), 2020 F8 (SWAN), and U6 Lemmon. And probably more will – will show up over the course of the summer, and, of course, we’ll keep you posted from Universe Today.
Pamela: And I – I for one have to admit I’ve gotten somewhat jaded about comets this year. So, that I didn’t even look up what comets were going to be up this summer. But this is why we need Universe Today to keep us up-to-date on what’s hopefully going to actually make it here. But this is my fancy way of saying never count a comet until it’s in your eyepiece.
Fraser: That’s right. We’ve got – we just had a – an annular eclipse and in just about a week-and-a-half there’s going to be a penumbral lunar eclipse. So –
Pamela: Which means it’s going to be really hard to tell there’s –
Pamela: – anything special going on.
Pamela: It’s like someone just adjusted the contrast on the moon.
Fraser: They are almost worthless. I wouldn’t – I won’t even try to see it, but it’s happening.
Pamela: True story.
Fraser: So, if you want to – if you – it’s been a long time since you’ve seen a lunar eclipse and you want to have that lunar eclipse – if you want test your ability, your eyesight, see if you can see the moon get any darker at all.
Pamela: Well, the moon is slightly easier to photograph because it’s less contrast against the night sky. The moon is super hard to photograph. Just repeat advise from last week, if you want to learn how to photograph the moon, summer is when to do it. Practice on a bright sky and get better as the sky gets darker and darker against the moon.
Fraser: Normally, when it comes to the summer it’s actually also a great time to observe the sun, but the problem is the sun is at the lowest point of its eleven cycle and so there is nothing happening on the sun. There have been no sun spots. There have been very few chromo mass ejections. Very few flares. Very few activities that hit us here on earth, thanks to the sun, so there haven’t been very many auras. So normally what I recommend you do, and maybe if you’re listen to the some other year, is sign up for some kind of aura alert service and just – just Google search that, and you’ll find a service that will tell you – that will send you an email when there’s going to be visible auras from your location.
And My Aura app has been silent for months. I think it’s been, like five months since I’ve even heard a peep out of My Aura app. There’s been nothing to see, and so don’t get your hopes up that there’s going to be anything to see this summer. It’s going to be very quiet.
Pamela: Most –
Pamela: – boring sun ever.
Pamela: So, I – I guess, if – if 2020 really didn’t need to add any more excitement –
Pamela: – we’re already covered, so it gave us a boring sun. I could have used boring somewhere else, but boring sun is what we got.
Fraser: Well, I think we’ve given you a bunch of suggestions on things to do. I know we – every summer we beg you to make an event of it. Go out, take your friends, family, go somewhere dark, see the sky, especially you live – if you live in a place that has a bad view to the night sky normally, go and enjoy the heavens and the way they were meant to be seen, without light pollution.
Pamela: Camping is awesome. That’s – and hammock tents, people, hammock tents.
Fraser: Yeah, sleeping on a hammock, seeing the sky, that’s the best. All right, Pamela, do you have some names before we go?
Pamela: I do. As always we are here thanks to the generous contributions we receive over on patreon.com/astronomycast. Thank you so much for everything you do that allows us to do everything that we do.
I would like to thank William Andrews, Jeff Collins, Artic Fox, Brian Peacock, Marek Virdarenee, Nat Detwiler, Matt Rucker, Ron Thorson, Phillip Walker, Brian Gregory, Keven Nitka, Elad Everon, Dave Lackey, Rolland Warmerdon, Paul Disney Cooper, Chris Sharhoffer, Gforce184, Carthic Ventquadtraum, I’m sorry, Scott Beber, Sara Turnball, Jillian Roads, Father Prax, Donald Mundus, Andrew Stevenson, Bart Flurity, Antisoar, Jason Gram, Dana Norry, Dean McDonald, Martin Dawson, Kenneth Ryan, Russell Peto, Benjamin Davies, Ann Samanski. Thank you all so much for everything you do for us.
Fraser: And thanks, Pamela. As always, it’s been an honor to – to do this show with you. Had a great time. It was a great season. And I hope you have a wonderful summer. I’m sure we’re going to be in touch regularly, especially with your various upcoming events. And we will see all of you in September.
Pamela: Have a fabulous summer. Astronomy Cast is a teenager, people. We’re a teenager.
Fraser: There you go. All right, thanks, everybody.
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Duration: 31 minutes