Milky Way

Summer stargazing on Dartmoor

Despite the short nights, and often poor weather, the summer night skies offer some spectacular celestial sights. My favourite areas to observe at this time of year are the rich swathes of the Milky Way in Cygnus, Sagittarius and Scutum. These regions are packed with dense starfields, glowing emission nebulae and some of the night sky’s finest star clusters.

On Saturday I spent the evening on Dartmoor imaging these wonderful parts of the sky. I wanted to capture a large portion of them in each frame, so I used a 50mm prime lens on my unmodified Canon 550D DSLR, which itself was mounted on an HEQ5 Pro mount.

The first image below shows part of the Sagittarius, Scutum & Serpens region. Several Messier objects are visible in the frame, including: M8 (the Lagoon Nebula), M20 (the Trifid Nebula), M22, M17, M16 (The Eagle Nebula) and M24. The second shot shows a region of the Milky Way in the constellation of Cygnus. The red glow of the North America Nebula (NGC 7000) and the nebulosity around the star Sadr (right of centre) are apparent. You can also, just, make out the two main fragments of the Veil Nebula right on the very bottom edge of the frame. The shot with the silhouetted tree is a single 15-second exposure, at ISO 1600, with the lens wide open at f/1.8.

Dust lanes weave through the Sagittarius, Scutum & Serpens region. Credit: Will Gater

The Milky Way near the bright star Deneb (top) in Cygnus. Credit: Will Gater

A lone Dartmoor tree stands silhouetted against the summer Milky Way. Credit: Will Gater

Delving into the dark skies of Dartmoor

The sky was wonderfully clear over my favourite dark sky site on Dartmoor on Saturday night, meaning I was able to spend several hours imaging objects in and around the Milky Way. Below are some of my images from that session, including a few of the lovely noctilucent cloud display that appeared over the northern horizon at about 02:00 BST. Clicking on each image will open a larger version.

The Milky Way in Scutum & Sagittarius. Credit: Will Gater
The globular cluster M22. Credit: Will Gater
Noctilucent clouds on the northern horizon. Credit: Will Gater
A close-up of the NLCs showing intricate structures. Credit: Will Gater
Wave structures within the 3 July 2011 noctilucent cloud display. Credit: Will Gater
More wave structures within the 3 July noctilucent cloud display. Credit: Will Gater

Scanning the summer night skies

This month’s Sky at Night Magazine vodcast is all about some of the things you can see in the night sky during the summer months. From glittering star clusters to glowing nebulae there’s something for everyone to observe over the coming weeks; in fact, many of the objects covered in the video can be spotted with a good pair of binoculars.

The vodcast is illustrated with several star charts to help you track down some of the more elusive objects, but if you require something a little more detailed then have a look at the free planetarium program Stellarium.

As usual, make sure you select the 720p HD setting for the best video quality. Clear skies and happy summer stargazing!

The sparkling treasures of the summer Milky Way

The Milky Way over Dartmoor (click to see a bigger version). Credit: Will Gater

I thought I’d  just briefly share this image with you all and give you a quick heads-up for some sights to look out for in the night sky at the moment.

I took this image last weekend from one of my favourite dark sky sites on Dartmoor. It shows our galaxy, the Milky Way, towards the constellations of Sagittarius and Scutum. I particularly wanted to mention this as the next few weeks are a good time for any of you in the UK, with a clear southern horizon, to look out for the lovely celestial objects on show in this part of the sky.

To help you find the objects — such as the wonderful and bright Lagoon Nebula as well as several fine clusters — I’ve posted a labelled (but slightly cropped) version of the image below. This part of the sky can be found by looking for the famous ‘Teapot’ asterism (labelled) in the south around midnight. Pretty much all of the objects I’ve marked make good small telescope or binocular targets. So, if you’re out observing anytime soon, have a look for some of them.

A Milky Way metro?

milkywaymetroArtist’s impression of the Milky Way Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When I started my degree in London years ago one of the first things I had to get to grips with was navigating the Tube. Fortunately it took no time at all, thanks to the world famous tube map, originally designed by Harry Beck in the 1930s. Its ingenious design simplifies the mish-mash of routes across London into an easy to read diagram, allowing the reader to work out how to get where they want to go, easily. It’s with this in mind that Harvard computational sociologist Samuel Arbesman has come up with the “Milky Way Transit Authority” map. It’s a tube map style diagram of our home in the Cosmos — the Milky Way. Replete with all the must see stops in the Galaxy (the Orion nebula stop isn’t finished yet and there’s a really strong wind whistling through the P Cygni station) the map neatly shows our place in space. You can download it as a .pdf on Samuel’s webpage (.pdf link here), but be warned; with news like this cropping up every now and then, a journey on the ‘Orion line’ might take a bit longer than expected!

Hat tip: J V Chamaray of BBC Focus magazine