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[The following is an open letter to Greater New Milford-area residents from the volunteers at the McCarthy Observatory on the campus of New Milford High School.]
Ahhh, the summer sky.
Every season has splendid celestial sights, but the summer sky is special indeed.
It can be enjoyed on so many warm, pleasant nights, and the memories will always be treasured by anyone who takes the time to soak up the special beauty of that bright sky adorned by the amazing Milky Way.
This writer had the pleasure of spending many summer vacations in far northern Michigan in the 1950s and ’60s, far away from city lights, or any lights, for that matter.
Laying on a creaky dock on a remote lake and staring at the stars is a most splendid way to start a lifetime love affair with the universe we live in
We had no sky charts, no celestial apps, there were no satellites, and we had no clue what all this meant. Yet the serenity and the awesome density and brilliance of the stars burns deeply into a mind for a lifetime.
The summer sky has the awesome part of the Milky Way that ends at the center of the galaxy,low in the south, where the gas and dust in that region glow intensely.
It has that awesome “Summer Triangle” of three bright stars that can be seen in twilight - Deneb, Vega and Altair, the brightest stars of Cygnus the swan, Lyra the lyre, and Aquila the eagle, respectively.
All navigation in the summer sky can start with these unmistakable landmarks. Nearby are a Fox, a Dragon, a Dolphin and, of course, there is Hercules, all passing by you in the southern sky.
A fun vacation challenge for a family: try this summer to identify each of these objects that were known to the ancients.
Some are easy, but not all of them. There are lots of web resources to help you, though.
This summer is bringing us special treats: Venus and Jupiter are still quite close together, low in the west after sunset, Saturn is high in the southern sky at full dark.
We can follow along on the NASA websites to track the Dawn mission exploration of dwarf planet Ceres and the New Horizons close encounter with the Pluto system, with special excitement Tuesday, July 14 at the closest approach.
Both Ceres and Pluto have revealed some most puzzling structures to the mission teams in recent days, and there will be more soon. A special summer indeed.
You may be surprised how much you can see in the summer Milky Way region with your household binoculars - the density of the stars, and the number of nebulae and star clusters as you get lower in the southern part of the sky are amazing, and always a delight.
Give it a try.
And help as many youngsters share the experience as you possibly can. You will be giving them a lifetime gift.
Have a great summer.