Tag Archives: Lyra

NASA Night Sky Notes: Summer Triangle Corner – Vega

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in June, 2020.

By David Prosper and Vivian White

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and look up during June evenings, you’ll see the brilliant star Vega shining overhead. Did you know that Vega is one of the most studied stars in our skies? As one of the brightest summer stars, Vega has fascinated astronomers for thousands of years.

Vega is the brightest star in the small Greek constellation of Lyra, the harp. It’s also one of the three points of the large “Summer Triangle” asterism, making Vega one of the easiest stars to find for novice stargazers. Ancient humans from 14,000 years ago likely knew Vega for another reason: it was the Earth’s northern pole star! Compare Vega’s current position with that of the current north star, Polaris, and you can see how much the direction of Earth’s axis changes over thousands of years. This slow movement of axial rotation is called precession, and in 12,000 years Vega will return to the northern pole star position. Bright Vega has been observed closely since the beginning of modern astronomy and even helped to set the standard for the current magnitude scale used to categorize the brightness of stars. Polaris and Vega have something else in common, besides being once and future pole stars: their brightness varies over time, making them variable stars. Variable stars’ light can change for many different reasons. Dust, smaller stars, or even planets may block the light we see from the star. Or the star itself might be unstable with active sunspots, expansions, or eruptions changing its brightness. Most stars are so far away that we only record the change in light, and can’t see their surface.

NASA’s TESS satellite has ultra-sensitive light sensors primed to look for the tiny dimming of starlight caused by transits of extrasolar planets. Their sensitivity also allowed TESS to observe much smaller pulsations in a certain type of variable star’s light than previously observed. These observations of Delta Scuti variable stars will help astronomers model their complex interiors and make sense of their distinct, seemingly chaotic, pulsations. This is a major contribution towards the field of astroseismology: the study of stellar interiors via observations of how sound waves “sing” as they travel through stars. The findings may help settle the debate over what kind of variable star Vega is. Find more details on this research, including a sonification demo that lets you “hear” the heartbeat of one of these stars, at: bit.ly/DeltaScutiTESS

Interested in learning more about variable stars? Want to observe their changing brightness? Check out the website for the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) at aavso.org. You can also find the latest news about Vega and other fascinating stars at nasa.gov.

Vega possesses two debris fields, similar to our own solar system’s asteroid and Kuiper belts. Astronomers continue to hunt for planets orbiting Vega, but as of May 2020 none have been confirmed. More info: bit.ly/VegaSystem Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Can you spot Vega? You may need to look straight up to find it, especially if observing after midnight.

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

NASA Space Place – A Trip Through the Milky Way

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in September, 2018.

By Jane Houston Jones and Jessica Stoller-Conrad

2013february2_spaceplaceFeeling like you missed out on planning a last vacation of summer? Don’t worry—you can still take a late summertime road trip along the Milky Way!

The waning days of summer are upon us, and that means the Sun is setting earlier now. These earlier sunsets reveal a starry sky bisected by the Milky Way. Want to see this view of our home galaxy? Head out to your favorite dark sky getaway or to the darkest city park or urban open space you can find.

While you’re out there waiting for a peek at the Milky Way, you’ll also have a great view of the planets in our solar system. Keep an eye out right after sunset and you can catch a look at Venus. If you have binoculars or a telescope, you’ll see Venus’s phase change dramatically during September—from nearly half phase to a larger, thinner crescent.

Jupiter, Saturn and reddish Mars are next in the sky, as they continue their brilliant appearances this month. To see them, look southwest after sunset. If you’re in a dark sky and you look above and below Saturn, you can’t miss the summer Milky Way spanning the sky from southwest to northeast.

You can also use the summer constellations to help you trace a path across the Milky Way. For example, there’s Sagittarius, where stars and some brighter clumps appear as steam from a teapot. Then there is Aquila, where the Eagle’s bright Star Altair combined with Cygnus’s Deneb and Lyra’s Vega mark what’s called the “summer triangle.” The familiar W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia completes the constellation trail through the summer Milky Way. Binoculars will reveal double stars, clusters and nebulae all along the Milky Way.

Between Sept. 12 and 20, watch the Moon pass from near Venus, above Jupiter, to the left of Saturn and finally above Mars!

This month, both Neptune and brighter Uranus can also be spotted with some help from a telescope. To see them, look in the southeastern sky at 1 a.m. or later. If you stay awake, you can also find Mercury just above Earth’s eastern horizon shortly before sunrise. Use the Moon as a guide on Sept. 7 and 8.

Although there are no major meteor showers in September, cometary dust appears in another late summer sight, the morning zodiacal light. Zodiacal light looks like a cone of soft light in the night sky. It is produced when sunlight is scattered by dust in our solar system. Try looking for it in the east right before sunrise on the moonless mornings of Sept. 8 through Sept 23.

You can catch up on all of NASA’s current—and future—missions at www.nasa.gov

Caption: This illustration shows how the summer constellations trace a path across the Milky Way. To get the best views, head out to the darkest sky you can find. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

CNYO Spring 2016 Observing Session At Beaver Lake Nature Center On Thursday, April 28th (Raindate: May 5th)

FINAL UPDATE: 4 May – 2:00 p.m. – The weather for tomorrow night is predicted to be lousy for observing, so we’re making the official call early to CANCEL tomorrow night’s event at Beaver Lake Nature Center. Stay tuned for an event announcement about The Mercury Transit happening on May 9th!

UPDATE: 28 April – 2:00 p.m. – Sadly, the cloud cover is not agreeable for observing tonight (as also reported by Glenn Coin at syracuse.com), so we are pushing the observing session off to next Thursday, May 5th. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: 28 April – 10:00 a.m. – The sky conditions for tonight are not looking good for observing. We’ll make a final call around 2:00 p.m. and, if necessary, plan for next Thursday instead.

H/T to Glenn Coin for posting the announcement to syracuse.com (and various related pick-up CNY sites).

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The time has come again to make our seasonal Thursday night trek [beaver lake announcement; meetup.com event] to the Beaver Lake parking lot for views of the Nighttime Spring Sky. For 2016, we’ve the added bonus of having prime planetary viewing for the entire session, featuring Mercury to our West just after sunset (and even before if Bob Piekiel’s GOTO scope is ready) and Jupiter, biting at the feet of Leo the Lion, in the sky throughout – having reached opposition in early March.

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Views from the 2006 Transit of Mercury. Photo from nationalgeographic.com

Mercury will be giving us a double-dose of observing in the next few weeks as we approach its Transit on the morning of May 9th (for which Bob Piekiel is hosting a special (and unusually early!) event at Baltimore Woods from 8 to 10 a.m. On Monday, May 9th – event notice to follow!). For those who managed a view of the Transit of Venus in 2012, this is your chance to say you saw the only two planetary Transits you can from Earth – you’ll then have to move to Mars to try to make any kind of inferior planet trifecta.


Google map for Beaver Lake Nature Center. Click to get directions.

LeoTripletHunterWilsonThe Thursday session at Beaver Lake will be our last chance to see any sign of the Orion Nebula (and it will be heroic observing at that, given how close to the tree line it may be by the time it’s dark enough), but M13 in Hercules, the Leo Triplet (shown at right – and they will not look this good from Beaver Lake! Image from wikipedia.org), several other notable Messier Objects, and whatever satellites happen to fly over will be on hand to keep the observing and conversation going.

By the usual ending time for the event, the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra will just be rising above the Northeastern skyline, striking the chord to herald the soon-approaching return of Summer Skies and our views into the heart of our Milky Way Galaxy.