Most summer dwellers night sky are easy to find: There are the bright stars Vega and Arcturus, the constellation Cygnus Cygnus, the Big Dipper. But one of my favorites is a little harder to see and worth the effort and little gear you’ll need to do it. The Hive Group, also known as the M44is as much a harbinger of summer as the sound of wind chimes and katydid cries.
This week, the Hive is joined by the planet Venus, which shines bright in the western sky after sunset. The pairing is a great introduction to celestial companions you might not otherwise see – and some gear you might need for the rest of your stargazing summer.
The Hive Cluster is found in the constellation Cancer the Crab, in his “chest”, according to Ptolemy. It is also known as Praesepe, Latin for manger or manger. On a very dark site, you can distinguish it as a slightly milky spot, like an extremely faint Pleiad. With these famous seven sisters, it has been recorded and appreciated since antiquity; Praesepe is listed in the oldest known star catalog in the world, compiled by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea, who called it “the cloudy star” or “little cloud”. Galileo was the first to realize that it was actually a group of stars. We now know it’s one of the closest clusters to Earth, containing hundreds of stars about 580 light-years away.
This week, the bright planet Venus will be your guide to the Hive. Try it with binoculars: First, find Venus in the west as dusk turns to darkness. As June passes, the planet will move higher than the hive on the horizon. Earlier in the month, the cluster appeared in the lower left of Venus, but on June 16 it will appear in the lower right. Bright blue-white stars will sparkle in your field of vision. They formed together, from the same natal cloud of gas and dust, and are still bound by gravity into a loose cluster. They are sister stars, traveling together in the void. The photons that will accumulate in your eyes tonight left these stars around the year 1443.
Venus and the Hive will be a little too far apart to be seen together through a telescope, so a modest pair of binoculars will give a superior view. Venus alone will also look stunning with the naked eye, through binoculars, or through a telescope. It is only a few days past its greatest eastern elongation, which is a way of describing where the planet is in relation to the sun. On June 4, it was 45 degrees from the sun, as far as possible, and it will be unmistakably bright for the next few weeks. Binoculars will give you a view that shocked Galileo four centuries ago. Venus, at the eastern elongation, is in the first quarter, like a half-lit moon. It has phases like the moon, due to its orbit relative to the Earth. As summer progresses, Venus will decline into a crescent as it moves between us and the sun, before reaching its greatest westward elongation and becoming the morning star this fall.
To see the phases of Venus and the hive cluster, you don’t need the prettiest pair of binoculars, but a set meant for astronomy will work better than the cheap ones you pull out of your time cupboard. in time to use them in baseball. game. Look for binoculars with at least 7x magnification and an aperture of at least 35 millimeters; 10x magnification and 50mm aperture is even better. Higher magnification will make things closer, and the wider the aperture or opening, the more light enters to be magnified. Above 10×50, it can be difficult to hold the binoculars steady enough, so you may want to use a tripod.
Binoculars can be the most important item in your stargazing kit. Although not necessary, they are fun, easier to use, and cheaper than a telescope. Below are some additional recommendations to make summer stargazing a little more comfortable, and maybe even a little more wonderful.
The basics: GPS locator, world map and red flashlight
First, know your location. The stars you see are different during the year and in the hemisphere, so it helps to know your latitude (your smartphone can tell you this). Once you have your coordinates, you can use an app or a map to find the stars. I prefer to use a physical planisphere, which is just a circular sky map that can be adjusted for different times of the year. The best are visible in very low light or with a red flashlight. My go-to is The Night Sky by David Chandler Co.which comes in different editions for every 10 degrees of latitude in the northern hemisphere.
Red light will not harm your dark-adapted vision like blue or white light (which is actually mostly blue). Red flashlights and headlamps are relatively easy to find, but in a pinch, a small piece of red tape or a red Sharpie on the lens works just as well. My favorite astronomy flashlight is a Mini Maglite covered with taillight tape, which you can find at any auto parts store.
Nice to have: a comfortable chair and binoculars
Any chair or blanket will work, of course. But if you want to splurge, I recommend this reclining camping chair by NEMO Equipmentwhich is sturdy enough to go anywhere and comfortable enough to use on your patio (which I do).
Binoculars specific to astronomy often come with coated lenses and specialized prisms that improve vision in the dark. Look for at least 7x magnification and 35mm objective lenses, but higher magnification and longer lenses will allow you to see more. I have this pair by Celestron.
If you want to look directly at planets, fainter star clusters, galaxies, and distant nebulae, you might want to invest in a telescope. The options are almost as varied as the stars in the sky, so I recommend starting with Sky and Telescope Guide. But if you just want a relatively modest option, a basic reflector-type telescope will do. The most important feature of a telescope is its aperture, also called the lens. A larger aperture will allow you to see more objects and fainter objects. Reflectors with a decent aperture can be purchased for a few hundred dollars.
Top tier stargazing super splurges
I strongly believe that the night sky is something everyone should see for themselves. It’s something anyone can do, regardless of income or location, and what’s more, it’s something all humans who have lived before us have also done. But if “photos or it didn’t happen” interests you, then you might want to upgrade to an astrophotography kit. by Celestron Inspire 100AZ refractor telescope comes with a built-in smartphone adapter, allowing you to take photos directly from your scope.
If you want a dedicated setup, you can take astrophotography to a much higher level with the Vaonis Vesper, which can find objects automatically and track them, compensating for the Earth’s rotation. It will stack multiple images of a single object to bring out more detail, producing photos with much higher resolution than anything you would see through the telescope on your own.
If you won the lottery, you might want to check Unistellar eVscope 2which has Nikon lenses, proprietary software that removes noise from images of light-polluted areas – which is pretty much everywhere – and an app that can find anything in the night sky to you, automatically.
You can fall down an equipment rabbit hole very quickly. Or, you could just… Go out and watch. Even without binoculars, Venus will be beautiful to see this week. Mars will be nearby throughout the month and bright enough to be seen without any equipment. Your companion planets, from the twin worlds to this one, are just there to be seen, just above the horizon. Go say hello.
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