A constellation that isn't, and a star party

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

One of the most identifiable star groupings of the summer sky is the three-star association of the Summer Triangle.

I can't say it is a constellation, because it isn't. The Summer Triangle is an asterism, a group of stars made up of stars from other constellations. One of the other best-known asterisms is the Big Dipper which is made from stars of the constellation Ursa Major, the Big Bear.

As summer gets closer, these three bright stars can be seen rising in the east earlier each evening. Right now they are best viewed after 11:00 pm MDT when all three stars have cleared the eastern horizon.

As summer progresses, all three stars of the triangle will be above the horizon by 9 p.m. on July 4th.

The triangle's stars are bright, first magnitude Vega, the star on the top of the triangle. Down to Vega's lower left is Deneb, the tail star in Cygnus, the Swan, and across to Deneb's right--and Vega's lower right--is Altair in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle.

During the next few weeks we will examine each star to see what we can learn.

And now, for a blatant, obvious commercial. The Nebraska Star Party is getting closer. The annual event where several hundred astronomically-minded people gather on a big grassy prairie at Merritt Reservoir just southwest of Valentine, Nebraska to stay up all night taking in the celestial sights.

If the typical summer-style thunderstorms can be avoided, the week of July 27-Aug. 1 will provide some very dark nights and some astounding celestial beauty.

Don't have a telescope? Not to worry, there will be several hundred people there who do have scopes who will be more than happy to let you have a look through theirs.

All NSP activities are geared toward family fun and there are many activities for children not to mention the opportunity for a float down the scenic Niobrara River in either a canoe or an inner tube.

Don't know anything about the stars, not to worry. There is a daily Beginner's Field School to acquaint you with what is there. The school itself is worth the price of registration.

Open-range camping is the best lodging available because if you have not reserved a room in a Valentine motel by now it is too late. The camping is primitive--no electricity or plumbing--but the other necessities can be found in the little building out back which isn't all that primitive.

The location is also close to many other sightseeing opportunities, if you can stay awake from being up all night looking at the stars, although the nearest McDonald's is 29 miles away.

You can check out some photographs from previous star parties at the Nebraska Star Party page on Facebook, or go to www.nebraskastarparty.org for more photos and registration information.

We have attended many times and our children grew up attending, even a couple of grandchildren have accompanied us and I am grooming the youngest two now for their first foray into the night sky.

SKYWATCH: First quarter moon tomorrow, June 5th. Saturday, June 7th, the moon and Mars have a very close meeting, withing two degrees of each other, binoculars will be helpful. Sunday, June 8, a growing moon and the star Spica will be close, although the brightness of the moon may washout the star. Monday and Tuesday, June 9 and 10, will see the moon bracketing the ringed-planet Saturn, a good help for locating the planet if you haven't found it yet.

NEXT WEEK: Vega in Lyra and more astronomical blathering.

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