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Explorit: Summer’s starry starry nights

By Vinita Domier

Warm summer nights make for ideal stargazing opportunities for backyard astronomers of all ages. Many celestial wonders can be enjoyed by the unaided eye in both dark and semi-dark environments. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, comprising billions of stars, is clearly visible overhead as a ribbon of milky white light spanning the summer sky in relatively dark locations.

Everyone is invited to the Davis Astronomy Club’s next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Explorit Science Center for a free presentation on the wonders of the summer night sky. All ages are welcome to attend the discussion about the featured topic, followed by a star party to see the wonders of the starry sky through telescope.

The Summer Triangle is visible overhead with the naked eye throughout the summer. Three very bright blue-white stars (Vega in Lyra constellation, Deneb in Cygnus constellation and Altair in Aquila constellation) form the vertices of the big triangular pattern in the sky. The Ring Nebula (M57), a beautiful planetary nebula in Lyra, is visible through a small telescope.

Other easily identifiable summer constellations are Hercules, Bootes, Virgo, Scorpius and Sagittarius. Globular clusters — M13 and M92 — comprising about 100,000 stars in Hercules, can be seen with the aid of a small telescope. Arcturus (in Bootes) and Antares (in Scorpius) are visible red-orange stars and Spica (in Virgo) is a white star. Globular cluster (M4) in Scorpius and many star clusters and nebulae in Sagittarius are telescopic objects.

Other wonders to see in the night sky with the naked eye are solar system objects like the planets and the moon. This summer, Saturn is visible in the southern sky all evening long. Using a small telescope reveals its beautiful rings that are always amazing to behold. Venus is an “evening star” this summer, while Jupiter and Mars are visible in the pre-dawn sky.

The full moon Saturday is a special “supermoon,” and will appear slightly larger than usual because the moon is at its perigee (closest to Earth in its orbit).

The annual Perseid meteor shower, which peaks on Aug. 12, is another summertime astronomical highlight. These “shooting stars” are best viewed by looking toward the northeastern part of the night sky in a relatively dark location. Dust particles left behind from the comet Swift-Tuttle create spectacular streaks in the night sky when they vaporize upon entry in the Earth’s atmosphere.

For more information, contact me at [email protected].

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Explorit’s events:

* Saturday, 1-4 p.m.: Linda Merchant, artist and educator form the High Hand Gallery in Loomis, will be hosting a drop spindle demonstration. Drop spindles are devices for spinning raw textiles like wool roving into yarn or thread by hand. Free with paid admission to the museum.

* Saturday, June 29, 1-4 p.m.: Merchant returns to Explorit to demonstrate realist painting with oils and pastels. She uses a layered process to achieve detail and precision in her work on wildlife, still life, portraiture and more. Free with paid admission to the museum.

— Explorit Science Center is at 3141 Fifth St. For more information, call 530-756-0191 or visit www.explorit.org. You can also “like” Explorit on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb or follow it on Twitter at @ExploritScience.

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