Find Saturn and you find the center of the Milky Way galaxy! And, then, oh by the way, there is a total eclipse of the Sun on Monday August 21st!
You may have noticed a ‘bright star’, rising in the south-east at sunset but in fact it is Saturn with the Milky Way as a nice backdrop into the late evening. A small telescope may be required to see the rings of Saturn but binoculars are very useful. Saturn is very close to the center of the Milky Way galaxy where a super-massive black hole resides, just, roughly, 30,000 light-years away from Earth. Of course we can’t see that in binoculars but if you start at Saturn, currently surrounded by the constellations Ophiuchus, Sagittarius, and, Scorpius, and pan slowly back and forth with binoculars you will see many nebulae (plural of nebula), star clusters, and massive star clouds. Use the chart to start your observing adventure!
And, one of the most important astronomical events of this year is the Total Solar Eclipse. The Sun will be entirely covered by the Moon, and during those couple brief minutes the Coronal Streamers will become visible. But you will have to be on the centerline, or close to it, for that to happen. If you can’t be on the centerline, you will see a Partial Solar Eclipse. Depending on how far from the centerline you will be, the sliver of Sun will be a thin crescent (close to the centerline) to only a small bite missing from the Sun (quite far from the centerline). Do not look directly at the Sun, even if only for second – even if it a thin sliver! You could permanently damage your eyes! Use sufficient protection for your eyes at all times. Several quick ways of seeing, safely, the Partial Solar Eclipse, is to use what is called a Pin-Hole Camera. Using two sheets of paper and poking a small hole in one sheet, using that one to project the dot of sunlight onto the second and notice it is an image of the Sun! Separating the distance between the two sheets will change the size of the Sun’s image. A shoebox works good, too, maybe better as the box provides some shade to improve contrast. One phenomenon I love seeing during any Solar Eclipse, is that on the ground under trees that the leaves still let some sunlight through, the ground will be covered with little images of the eclipsed Sun. Mark your calendar for the Total Solar Eclipse!
Steven Aggas operates the Apache-Sitgreaves Observatory in Overgaard, Arizona. Dedicated to educational outreach and public observing of the Universe using the largest public observing telescope in the Southwest offering Visual Observing, Workshops, and Solar Viewing Fun. We also offer critical products you need for visual observing and digital imaging. Learn more about it at apache-sitgreaves.org.