Weekend Stargazer: July 28 – 30

The Small Sagittarius Star Cloud (M24) nearly fills the field of view of 10×50 binoculars ( indicated with the blue circle in the photo above). Inset chart by Glenn LeDrew.

Evenings this weekend are mostly moonless. The summer not only offers agreeable weather, but for stargazers, the fabulous riches of the Milky Way. Exploring our home galaxy involves as little or as much equipment as you like. Indeed, for soaking up the big-picture perspective, a reclining lounge chair or a beach blanket is all you need. Others will want to set up a big scope or full-on astrophotography rig to focus in on some of our galaxy’s fine detail. The choice is yours.

One particular region that merits a lot of attention is found in Sagittarius. This constellation features the bright heart of the Milky Way and is rich with star clusters and nebulas. Perhaps most eye-catching of all is the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud, also known as M24. Although it’s made up of an uncountable number of stars, M24 isn’t a cluster so much as an isolated patch of Milky Way. In fact, if M24 wasn’t surrounded by dark nebulas it wouldn’t be considered an individual object at all. And yet, M24 is a striking sight in binoculars—much more so than the comparatively restrictive view provided by a telescope, which diminishes the Star Cloud’s visual impact. However, scanning M24 with a scope is the best way to see the complex network of dark nebulas that frame the faux cluster. In many respects, these opaque features are more interesting than M24 itself. While you’re in the neighbourhood, don’t forget to check out nearby clusters M25 and M23 as well as the Swan Nebula, M17.

To read about more events, be sure to check out my regular This Week’s Sky column at SkyNews.ca.