Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility Interactive Stargazing: How to Participate and What to Request | Summer 2020 - Lowell Observatory

Interactive Stargazing: How to Participate and What to Request | Summer 2020

Photo: The Giovale Open Deck Observatory at night, taken by Danielle Adams
By Madison Mooney
Cowritten with Victoria Girgis, Lowell Educator

With social distancing measures still in place here at Lowell Observatory, we’re trying out something a little different to bring the wonders of the cosmos to you: Interactive Stargazing Streams! During these live streams, astronomy fans can use Youtube’s chat function to request the celestial objects they want to see through our 14″ PlaneWave CDK telescope. If you want to participate, but you’re not sure what to request, read on! This handy guide will fill you in on what’s visible in the night sky right now, as well as in the coming months.

Our next Interactive Stargazing Stream is on Friday, May 29 at 8:30 pm AZ/PT!

Deep Sky Objects

The following objects are perfect for requesting during our Interactive Stargazing Streams, or for looking at through your own telescope! To find these objects in the sky, we recommend using one of the handy astronomy apps listed at the bottom of this article.

Galaxies: M51 (Whirpool Galaxy), M81 & 82 (Bode’s and Cigar Galaxies). Galaxies are big collections of stars all orbiting around a common center, where there is usually a black hole.

Globular Star Clusters: M4, M13, and M92. Globular star clusters are bundles of hundreds of thousands of stars, all bound together with the force of gravity. They all stick together and orbit as a unit. They might be the remnants of galaxies that the Milky Way has absorbed.

Naked Eye Objects

You don’t need a fancy telescope to view these celestial objects—all you need is a dark area and the right timing! Request these objects during the live stream for an extra close look through the Planewave.

The Moon: The next full Moon is on Friday, June 5. Until then, the Moon will rise later in the evening, closer to sunset. This is its waxing phase, and currently it is a waxing crescent. The Moon will be in its First Quarter (when the side of the Moon that faces us is illuminated) on May 30, and after that, it will grow into its Gibbous phase. The Moon will cross through the southern part of the sky, rising in the east and setting in the west.

Vega, Deneb, and Altair: These three stars form The Summer Triangle. They are some of the brightest stars in the sky: Vega 5th, Altair 12th, and Deneb 19th. As the name implies, they form a triangle that is visible during the summer. Vega is the first to rise of the three, and it will rise before sunset, so it will appear due east. The rest of the triangle will begin to appear in the coming weeks.

Big Dipper: Due north, we can find one of the most recognizable and famous constellations. The seven stars that make up the Big Dipper are spread across the northern sky in a shape that resembles a soup ladle. From this one constellation, find the two furthest stars in the “scooping” part of the Big Dipper and draw an imaginary line to the North Star, Polaris. You can also draw a big arch from the “handle” to a bright, orange-colored star. This is Arcturus, the 4th brightest star in the sky.

Mizar and Alcor: These are two stars in the handle of the big dipper that form the second point in from the edge of the handle. If you look closely, you should be able to make out two separate stars. These are two stars that orbit each other in a binary star system. They have been used as a vision test in the distant past. Watch as the two different stars get more difficult to see as the Moon grows and brightens, causing the sky to get brighter and drown out fainter stars.

Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars: This one is for the early risers. In the hours before sunrise, you can spot these three planets bright in the sky. The two brighter ones close together are Jupiter and Saturn; Jupiter being the brightest of the two. The other, reddish one is Mars. All three will be due south.

Helpful astronomy apps to check out:

Stellarium: This planetarium software is available for a free download on desktop, and for a small fee as a mobile app. The desktop version offers a lot more control over location, time, and date than the mobile version, and the program will show you a lot more information about any object you select. You can also turn on constellation lines/names, which can help with finding things in the sky. This is what Lowell Educators use to learn about the sky and constellations! Get more information about Stellarium here.

Sky Safari: This professional telescope astronomy software is available in a variety of versions as a mobile app, including a free version. Users can point their phone at the sky and (if its calibrated), and the app will label the objects they are seeing in the sky. This is what Lowell Educators use to control the telescopes at the Giovale Open Deck Observatory! Get more information about Sky Safari here.