The centre of our galaxy

THIS image shows the millions of stars and stellar gasses and dust at the centre of our galaxy.

Just right of top centre is the red giant star, Antares in Scorpio. Look carefully and you may pick out the closer line of stars of similar brightness coming down, then curving back up left with the two stars very close together that make up the sting of Scorpio in front of a denser part of the gasses.

Just take a moment to consider that any one of those distant specks of light could be our sun, with its tiny little planet, Earth, one of the eight orbiting it to give you an idea of just how insignificant our sun and its family is. And there is still an enormous number obscured by these we can see in just in this image alone.

Photo www.stevesastro.net

TIME marches relentlessly on, and in the northwest, the brightest star, Regulus, in Leo the lion or the Sickle is nearing the horizon.

Higher is the bright star, Spica, in the constellation of Virgo, then a bit lower, Arcturus in Bootes just west of due north. Over in the Northeast quadrant comes the constellations, Corona Borealis, Hercules, and Aquila. While above them are Libra, and due north, Ophiuchus. Serpens Claudia with its bright star, Altair is just rising at this time.

Around to southeast, now is the time to take in the enormous concentration of stars that comprise the hub of our galaxy’s two to four billion stars – best seen on a moonless night and away from the cursed man-made light pollution.

This region is in the Sagittarius constellation, often called the Teapot. It is just below the tail of Scorpius, which is now much higher as it continues on its arc around the South Celestial Pole.

The Milky Way has dipped somewhat now, with the western part now decidedly below the horizon and now is the time to take in the majesty of what we, in the southern latitudes, are privileged to see. There are a plethora of constellations there, including Centaurus, which contains our next nearest star Alpha Centaurus. Paired with the much further away Beta Centaurus, at just under 400 light years distance, it points to the top of Crux, the Southern Cross.

The long axis of the cross is now tilted to the right in the southwest. If you follow the line of the cross, you may be able to get a glimpse of the star Achernar as it rises in the southeast as both it and the cross appear to move in a tight circle in opposite directions on either side of the South Celestial Pole.

Look above Beta Centauri and slightly right you will see a fainter star, then nearly the same distance again, to another still fainter object. This faint fuzzy point of light is about 15,800 light years distant beyond our galaxy. This is the massive globular cluster, Omega Centauri, which contains an estimated seven to 10 million stars that are about one light year in separation on average with every indication there is a Black Hole at its centre, just like in the center of our galaxy.

There is a strong belief that this is the remaining core of a pigmy galaxy that has lost all its outer stars in the past to the much stronger gravitational pull from our galaxy. Intensive research has recently revealed a long stream of stars trailing away from the Large Magellanic Cloud towards our galaxy, further demonstrating this ever-changing process that takes place over millions of years. Both the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds are also low in the southern horizon at this time.

Further on now, and dipping to the southwest, is the Carina constellation with its glorious nebula and the enigmatic giant star Eta Carina that is concealing its activity by a very dense cloud of stellar dust about the size of our solar system from its very recent explosive activity.

Nearby and down to the southwest lies the False Cross, and not far above the horizon there is the giant star Canopus, which is curving down towards the east to dip briefly below the southern horizon for a few hours each night appearing again about 1.30am, or appearing again there in October around 7.30pm in the evenings at that time.

Now for the bright lights. Mercury is now rising at 7.54am, just after the sun and 0.587 astronomical units distant. So Mercury will be briefly visible in the morning sky once again. Venus, meanwhile, is still heading around the far side of the Sun at 1.709AU and rising before the sun at 6.58am. This means it is in the glare of the morning sun as it speeds along to catch up to Earth once more.

Mars is now very far away, out to 2.607AU and rising at 8.31am. It, too, is presently in the glare of the sun.

Meanwhile, we caught up to and passed Jupiter again on the inside on June 11 when the Sun, Earth, and Jupiter were virtually in a direct line. We closed to 4.284AU and during this time there have been great views and photographs taken from around the world. Since then, the distance has increased to 4.429AU and is increasing by the second.

Saturn is also putting on its best display right now, being in opposition on July 10 when we closed to 9.039AU. This is nearly twice the distance to Jupiter. Now too is the best time for viewing and imaging Saturn due to its favourable inclination.

Rings of Saturn make top viewing

SATURN, due to its spectacuar rings, is arguably the most interesting and recogniable planet in our solar system.

This month is the perfect time to view it through a telescope, as it is putting on its best display right now.

By Norman Izett