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4 Sky Events This Week: Cosmic Doughnut, Moon Meets Lion’s Heart

The Ring nebula in Lyra, imaged here by the Hubble Space Telescope, is one of the most famous deep-sky objects for backyard telescopes since it is conveniently located near the bright summer star Vega. Credit: The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA)

With the moon out of the way in the early part of this week, starry nights make for a great opportunity to track some down cosmic treasures beyond our solar system.

Ring Nebula in Lyra. On Monday, July 8, the  moon is in new phase, making it an ideal time to hunt down the most famous of all planetary nebulae–a psychedelic bubble of gas left behind by a dying star. Start your hunt for the Ring Nebula, or Messier 57, by looking high in the southeast for the star Vega and its constellation Lyra the harp, which marks the brightest corner of the famous Summer Triangle pattern of stars.

Resembling a small equilateral triangle hitched to a parallelogram, Lyra is one of the smaller but more easily recognized classical constellations, visible all summer long. The Ring Nebula is located halfway along the line between the two stars forming the side wall of the trapezoid farthest away from Vega.

The planetary nebula is visible only through high magnification telescopes, and looks like a small pale ring.  Long-exposure photographs reveal the nebula in all its glory, showing the expanding ring of hot gas in a beautiful rainbow of colors. While it is a demure object at the eyepiece, it is amazing to think that you are actually looking at a 1 light-year wide shell of gas thrown off by a dying sun-like star over 2300 light years away.

 

Detailed finder star chart for the Ring Nebula in the constellation Lyra. Credit: Starry Night Software/ A.Fazekas

 

Rival of Mars. Look toward the low southern horizon late night on Tuesday, July 9, for a bright orange star. Antares is the lead member of the constellation Scorpius, representing the eye of the mythical arachnoid. Lying some 600 light years from Earth, Antares’ name literally means “Anti-Mars,” a handle devised by ancient Greek astronomers because its color reminded them of the Red Planet.

Moon and Venus.  On Wednesday, July 10, the moon will park itself near beacon-like Venus. The cosmic pair will be a challenge to see, as they’ll be close to the western horizon. But the pair will be just 7 degrees apart, a little more than the width of your fist at arm’s length.

Moon joins Regulus. By the evenings of Thursday, July 11, and Friday, July 12, the moon will rise higher in the western sky at dusk and will sidle up to the bright white star Regulus–the heart of Leo, the lion. The waxing crescent moon will appear less than 6 degrees away from Regulus, which is 78 light years away.

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Comments

  1. Gunawan
    Indonesia
    August 6, 2013, 6:17 pm

    Good photo

  2. Marita Powell
    Dallas Oregon USA
    July 9, 2013, 1:49 pm

    Getting out my telescope I haven’t used in a few years ! Looking forward to looking for the Antares…..will I be able to find it? Clear skys tonight !!!!

    • Andrew Fazekas
      July 9, 2013, 3:39 pm

      Antares should be relatively easy to find since it shines like a bright orange beacon low in the south. Just make sure you have a clear line of sight to the southern horizon. Best time to see Antares is between 10 pm and midnight your local time. Look to Antares’ far right – at about the same altitude- you should see creamy-colored Saturn too. The ringed planet will offer up some great views through your telescope for sure. To the unaided eye both star-like objects will appear near same brightness.

  3. Stephen
    USA
    July 9, 2013, 9:00 am

    I look forward to trying to find the
    Ring Nebula tonight! By, “high magnification”, what would be suggested? Refractor/reflector?

    • Andrew Fazekas
      July 9, 2013, 12:03 pm

      For the ring nebula I find it’s best to start out with about 50x magnification to find it between the two end stars of Lyra. Then you can pump up the magnification to 150x and more depending on the size of the scope you are using and sky darkness. A small refactor (2.5 inches) will spot it, but a bigger reflector (4 inches and up) you can use higher magnification to bring out more detail in the oval nebula.

      On an exceptionally clear night last summer I managed to glimpse the white dwarf (14.5 magnitude) at the center of the nebula under suburban skies – but that was with a 20″ scope using ~500x.

  4. MUNGUTI
    KENYA
    July 9, 2013, 8:29 am

    Nice one. Waiting to see tonight

  5. Lorena
    New Zealand
    July 9, 2013, 12:56 am

    So, Can we see something on the sky in this week? Thanks :)

  6. A.K.M. Ali hossain
    Dhaka, Bangladesh
    July 8, 2013, 11:09 pm

    Good photo.

  7. Kev
    Virginia Foothills, NV
    July 8, 2013, 7:50 pm

    Moon and Venus. My calendar says July 10th is Wednesday, not Thursday. What say ye?

    • Andrew Fazekas
      July 9, 2013, 12:05 pm

      Yes- the date has been changed. Thanks.

  8. Ryan R
    Philippines
    July 8, 2013, 7:00 pm

    Moon joins Regulus. By the evening of Saturday, July 12… isn’t it that July 12 is a friday? so is this event a friday or a saturday?

    • Andrew Fazekas
      July 8, 2013, 7:13 pm

      Thanks for the catch. Actually the event is best on Friday the 12th but can also be seen the night before too.