June-gazing

What’s Up?

Planets in the western sky.
The western skies during the first week of June, 2014. Click for a larger version.

I always like June’s night skies. This month, especially, we have a lot to look at.  Early in the month you have planets —ranging from Mercury (which is showing up nicely after sunset this week) to Saturn, high the eastern part of the sky. You also have plenty of constellations to choose from as the post-sunset sky darkens and gives you clear access to the constellations.  One of the constellations you shouldn’t miss exploring is Hercules. You can take a tour of this star pattern and explore some of its globular clusters in this step-by-step guide.

I am particularly fascinated by globular clusters because they contain some of the oldest stars we know about; some of them are even older than our galaxy! Stars in globulars can tell us a great deal about what conditions were like when they formed; that is, what elements were abundant in their birth clouds, and so on.  Astronomers’ understanding of these beautiful globe-shaped spheres of stars is growing as telescopes are better able to discern one star from another in these tightly packed systems.  Are there stars with planets in these clusters?  What about black holes? What other exotic objects do they have? These are the questions astronomers ask and try to answer as they study globulars.

You can study them yourself, too.  Just grab some binoculars or a small telescope, and look for the Hercules globulars. They’ll appear as smudges of light to the unaided eye (you need a good, dark-sky site for best viewing), but in higher-power views, you’ll see shimmering cities of light!  Check ‘em out!

There’s a whole wealth of other objects to explore, particularly if you’re in the southern hemisphere. In  this month’s edition of Our Night Sky over at Astrocast.TV, I explore some south-of-the-equator globulars, in addition to the lovely ones in Hercules. Want to know more? Check it out!

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