As odd as this may seem, I’ve never been big on the summer sky. It’s not the fault of the sky – summer brings a wealth of stunning objects, and I keep trying to convince myself to learn them. It’s just, somehow, a season I keep missing. I have countless memories of frozen nights spent trying not to freeze my eyes to the eyepiece, or of sitting shivering in the control room praying for dawn or a space heater (or both). Looking back over the years, spring has always been the last rush of observing before settling in for a summer of data reduction. May (sometimes June) was the Texas Star Party, and taking the undergraduates to McDonald. It was the season when the disk came up, and the galaxies and globular clusters I care for went down. In general, I guess I’m a winter kind of girl. I’m a winter kind of girl who want’s to give her students some things to go out and look at this summer. I need to change my ways, and add the summer skies to my memory. (image credit: Â¬Â© T. Credner & S. Kohle, AlltheSky.com)
And it’s not like the summer doesn’t have a huge wealth of objects to offer. Sagittarius is on the rise and this celestial teapot contains not only the center of the galaxy, but also nebulae, clusters, and dark patches. The brilliant constellation is imaged above. In addition to the Milky Way’s center, summer also goes out with he Perseid meteor shower. And between these two objects are countless other celestial gems to learn and love. This summer I’m setting a task for myself – to try and get some summer sky memories.
It’s not that I’ve never gone out in the summer and looked up before. In my mind, there are mosquito filled moments of summer Cepheid observing – I have a distinct memory of my adviser at MSU handing me money suddenly and saying, “GO GET BUG SPRAY!” In my mind, there are camping trips, and reckless moments on top of rocks in the wee hours of the night when everyone else was asleep while I was captivated by satellites passing overhead. I can still remember the moment of fright I had when I first saw the Northern Lights while coming home from a summer band concert (I have no idea why they scared me, but I was a kid, and maybe that’s a good enough reason). The sky has always been there and it has always been a part of my life, but… Summer nights somehow seemed to be spent more on horseback – racing fence lines in the moonlight with my cousin Zach – than behind the eyepiece.
My personal lack of looking up is complicated. As the Earth drifts from equinox to solstice, I no longer come home and look up at the constellations as I walk from the garage to the house. Instead, I come home to enjoy the Sun and look down to see what tulips are blooming today. To see and enjoy the stars, I have to make a concerted effort to go out after dinner (with a whole lot of bug spray – this is the midwest after all).
Tonight my skies are hazed over, so tonight I won’t start. BUT – starting on the next clear night, I’m going to work to find one object at a time, starting with M13 in Hercules. I’ve found this object before, but I’ve never documented the experience. I invite all of you to join me on this observing crusade, and go out and look up at this globular cluster. Share what you see, and challenge yourself to see something cool and know what you’re looking at. Each week I’m going to take on a new object, and I’d like you all to come with me on my journey.