Page last updated at 18:43 GMT, Friday, 4 November 2011
Summer astronomy: Herefordshire and Worcestershire

Martin Humphries, our usual star gazer, is unable to write his newsletter - our star guide has been written by:
Chris Ashman
Carolian Astronomy Society

Summer is regarded as the worst time for stargazing. It's true that the skies are dark for a relatively short period but they are packed with interest and well worth a look.

Vega is high in the sky and, along with Altair and Deneb, forms the Summer Triangle. Capella is low in the northern sky; The Great Bear reaches towards the west; Antares shines brightly, low in the southern sky and in the east Pegasus is rising. It will be best seen in autumn.

Like a celestial backcloth the Milky Way extends from Capella through Cassiopeia, Cygnus, Aquila and down to Scorpio on the southern horizon.

The Stars

Aquila - The Eagle

A prominent summer group with its leading star Altair shining brightly, flanked by two fainter stars Alshain and Tarazed.

Cygnus - The Swan

Another splendid constellation sometimes called the Northern Cross because of its obvious X shape. At one end of the cross we find Deneb. It is the faintest of the three stars that form the Summer Triangle but is still an easy target. At the other end of the cross is a much dimmer star Albireo. What this star lacks in brightness, it makes up for by being a lovely double with a golden primary and green/blue companion. Albireo is considered by many to be one of the finest doubles in the sky.

The Milky Way flows through Cygnus and a scan with a low power telescope or binoculars shows a sky rich with star fields.


This is a huge constellation with no brilliant stars and no obvious shape. Hercules occupies an area between Arcturus and Vega.

Great Globular Cluster
The Great Globular Cluster, also known as M13, is in the constellation Hercules

This constellation contains one very interesting object, M13. A globular cluster, M13 and is said to be visible to the naked eye on a clear night. The cluster contains approximately 500,000 stars and has a real diameter of around 160 light-years. It is obvious in binoculars.

M13 is located between ? Herculis and ? Herculis.

Libra - The Scales

A very obscure constellation lying between Spica and Antares, Libra is best seen in early summer.

Lyra - The Lyre

Lyra is a very small group that proves that size is not important. It may be small but it's packed with interest.

Its brightest star, Vega is one of the brightest in the whole sky and the third brightest star visible from Britain.

Close to Vega is ? Lyrae, a quadruple star. On a clear night, if your eyes are good, the two main components may be split with the naked eye. A small telescope should reveal that each is again double.

Between ? Lyrae and ? Lyrae we find M57, the Ring Nebula. This is a bright planetary nebula but the name is confusing as it is neither a planet nor a nebula. It is a faint, hot star surrounded by a shell of gas.

Ophiuchius - The Serpent-bearer

A very large constellation that extends into the Zodiac between Scorpio and Sagittarius but is not counted as a Zodiacal Constellation. Ophiuchius is a dull and rather empty part of the sky.

Sagitta - The Arrow

Sagitta is small but not hard to find. It lies between Aquila and Cygnus, not far from the star Altair.

Sagittarius - The Archer

This group is not too easy to find as it is never very far above our horizon. If you are able to locate Antares look to the east, about the same height above the horizon and you should find the brighter stars that make up "The Teapot".

Scanning this area of sky with binoculars will reveal star clouds as you look towards the centre of our Galaxy.

Scorpio - The Scorpion

Another superb constellation that is too far south to be well seen. Many of its best stars never rise above our horizon. Its brightest star, Antares, may be visible through the light pollution low in our sky.

Scutum - The Shield

Originally called Scutum Sobieskii (Sobieski's Shield), Scutum lies close to Aquila. It has no bright stars but is home to M11, the Wild Duck cluster. M11 is easy to see with binoculars and can be found close to ? Scuti and 12 Aquilae.

Serpens - The Serpent

Said to represent the serpent of Ophiuchius, Serpens is split into two groups Serpens Caput (the Head) and Serpens Cauda (the Tail) with Serpent-bearer in between.

Vulpecula - The Fox

Originally called Vulpecula et Anser, the Fox and Goose but we seem to have lost the goose.

Vulpecula is a faint constellation. It is, however, the home of the Coat Hanger cluster. To locate it, find the Summer Triangle and look a third of the distance between Altair and Vega, not far from the star ? Sagittae. This is a fun group of stars that really does look like an upside down coat hanger and is easily seen with small binoculars.

The Solar System

July 2012

The light summer nights are dominated by Mars and Saturn. Throughout July Mars slowly moves across the sky towards Saturn. On the nights of the 24th and 25th the Moon passes close to them both. Look to the WSW as the sky darkens (around 10pm).

Neptune is quite faint but if you are willing to hunt, it will spend the summer months passing through Aquarius. It will mean staying up late or an early alarm call as this area of sky will be high in the southern sky around 3am.

Uranus is brighter than Neptune and should be visible with binoculars. Look to the east in the early hours where it will be in the constellation Pisces.

Jupiter is getting better and better and at around 3am on the morning of the 15th it will just miss the crescent Moon above Aldebaran in Taurus.

Venus has highly reflective clouds, making it easy to spot

Venus is in the same patch of sky being slightly below Aldebaran. All this takes place around the Hyades cluster and the lovely Pleiades making it well worth staying up.

The 28th July will be the peak of the Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower. This may well be spoiled by the almost full Moon.

August 2012

Mars and Saturn are visible and make an interesting group with the bright star Spica. They are low in the WSW but with the nights getting longer their descent into the sunset will be delayed. Those with a clear view of the WSW horizon should be able to see them setting with the crescent Moon on the 21st.

Neptune reaches opposition on the 24th making it ideal for easier viewing. It's still dim and challenging as it travels through Aquarius.

Uranus can still be found in Pisces and mid month it will be rising before 10pm making it easier to observe.

Jupiter continues to travel through the constellation Taurus but with this part of the sky rising at around 1am observers will need to like late nights.

Venus is prominent in the morning sky before sunrise. As we go through the month it leaves Taurus, brushes Orion and heads off into Gemini. The crescent Moon lies below Venus on the 14th at around 3am.

Around the 8th Mercury begins to appear in the morning sky and remains observable until the end of the month. The best time to see Mercury will be between the 16th and 19th when it will be as far from the Sun as possible and at it's highest in the sky. Look in the ENE around 40 minutes before sunrise.


Please take care when observing Mercury or any object close to the Sun. Never look at the Sun with or without an astronomical instrument.

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