Celebration of Space - July 7, 2023

The Milky Way rises over Frosty Drew Observatory by Frosty Drew friend, <a href='http://www.fondimpressions.com' title='Bob Mattera' target='new'>Bob Mattera</a>

The Milky Way rises over Frosty Drew Observatory by Frosty Drew friend, Bob Mattera

Every summer, the Frosty Drew Observatory and Science Center will host a limited special event series called Celebrate the Milky Way. The Frosty Drew campus is located in Ninigret Park, which is the darkest spot in Southern New England, and one of the most accessible spots to easily see the Milky Way in all of New England. The most frequent question we get at Frosty Drew is “Have you seen aliens?”, with “When can I see the Milky Way?” being a close second. It was this question that put Frosty Drew Astronomy Team members, Brian and Scott, onto the concept of celebrating that fascinating view, which is becoming harder for the vast majority of US citizens to see due to increasing light pollution that comes from irresponsible outdoor lighting.

At Frosty Drew we have taken for granted how clearly and visibly we can see the Milky Way over our location. When we say Milky Way, we mean observing the actual galactic plane of the galaxy that we are part of. The plane will stretch across the sky starting in the South. During the summer months Earth’s nighttime side will face the center of the galaxy, allowing for amazing views of the galactic plane and the huge galactic nucleus. It is a collection of starlight from over 200 billion stars that are organized into the spiral arms of the galaxy. During the winter months, the Milky Will is visible, but instead of looking towards the galactic center, Earth’s nighttime side looks away from the center, towards the outer arms on the side of the galaxy that we reside on. This will make for a view that is significantly dimmer.

Celebrate the Milky Way is designed to offer the best views of the summertime Milky Way that we think can be seen in Ninigret Park on a Saturday night. On these nights, the Frosty Drew campus will have telescopes set up in the Courtyard that will show dozens of nebulae and star clusters that reside along the galactic plane. The big 24 inch Observatory telescope will offer high magnification views of star forming regions along the galactic plane. Most of these events are in July and August, but the same view can be seen much earlier in the year, but not in the evening hours, and instead a visitor will have to be on site in the morning hours before pre-dawn. In 2023, Frosty Drew has three Celebrate the Milky Way events planned, but these events also require very good weather and sky conditions. As such, tomorrow night’s event will likely be cancelled, but there is another opportunity next Saturday, July 15, 2023.

Even though tomorrow looks to be too foggy, don’t fret as we have more opportunities to see the Milky Way this summer. So stop in on our events calendar: https://frostydrew.org/events, and learn more about our Celebrate the Milky Way events, and perhaps schedule a date to check the Milky Way off your bucket list.

This past Wednesday, July 5, 2023, Earth reached the point in our orbit where we were the furthest from the Sun for our 365.25 day year. We call this Aphelion. Earth’s orbit is not a perfect circle, and is slightly elliptical. In astronomy we call this measure of deviation “eccentricity”. Because of this Earth has a closest point to the Sun, called Perihelion, and a furthest point, called Aphelion. Though it may sound strange to some that the day we are the furthest from the Sun also falls into the time of the year that we are in sweltering heat in the Northern Hemisphere. That is because our distance from the Sun is not what gives us our seasons, but instead it is our axial tilt (23.4°) that gives us our seasons. On June 21st, Earth’s Northern Hemisphere was tilted 23.4° towards the Sun, which places the Northern Hemisphere in significantly more sunlight for longer periods. Consequently, the Southern Hemisphere was tilted 23.4° away from the Sun on June 21st, and kicked off the first day of the winter season. So take a moment to step outside this week and feel the heat of aphelion, and have a day at the beach, pool, or just under a nice shade tree.

Have you heard of the dog days of summer? If you have, it probably reminds you of high heat and humidity. The dog days occur from July 3 – August 11 each year, and are some of the hottest days in the Northern Hemisphere. Though in recent years September has become quite a scorcher as well. Even though you may recall the dog days being hot and steamy, what do these days have to do with dogs?

The 40 days of summer that we call the dog days get their name from the star Sirius, which is found in the constellation Canis Major. Sirius is called the dog star because it is the brightest star in Canis Major, which is one of Orion’s hunting dogs. The dog days are the 20 days before and 20 days after the period that Sirius is in conjunction with the Sun, meaning that Sirius is on the opposite side of the Sun than Earth. This will place Sirius in the daytime sky just below the Sun. With the high humidity of the past two weeks, it looks like the dog days will live up to their reputation. So have a cold glass of lemonade and sit in front of the air conditioner, because the dog days are here for the next month.

After a short break in notable evening satellite activity, the International Space Station (ISS) will be returning to the evening sky on Monday, July 10, 2023, offering fabulous passes over the United States. Being that we are still quite close to the Summer Solstice, the ISS will be quite easy to observe and may offer more than one pass each night. Here are a few notable sightings for the coming week:

Mon, July 10 at 10:25 pm, starting in the WSW, rising to 72°, heading towards the E ← Awesome pass!
Tue, July 11 at 9:47 pm, starting in the SW, rising to 66°, heading towards the ENE ← Awesome pass!

Wed, July 12 at 8:59 pm, starting in the SSW, rising to 37°, heading towards the ENE
Thu, July 13 at 9:47 pm, starting in the WSW, rising to 46°, heading towards the NE

These are just a few stunning passes of the ISS for this coming week, but over the next couple of weeks the passes will become more frequent. So gear up and get out each night to catch a view of humanity’s only continuously inhabited space-based residence passing over, and become inspired by the things we are capable of. For daily pass times of the ISS and other bright satellites, visit the Frosty Drew Daily Satellite Pass Prediction Utility.

Scott MacNeill
Scott MacNeill
Entry Date:
Jul 7, 2023
Published Under:
Scott MacNeill's Columns
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