July: Drink in the many sights around the Teapot

The Eagle Nebula, M16, is 7000 light-years from Earth and spans 70 by 55 light-years. It is home to several famous cosmic structures, including the stunning Pillars of Creation, which stretch roughly 4 to 5 light-years, and Stellar Spire, approximately 9.5 light-years or 90 trillion kilometres high. Photo by MPAS member Nik Axaris

In July, if you look towards the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius on a clear night, then you are looking in the direction of the very heart of our galaxy. Sagittarius, the Archer, is nestled within a mesmerisingly detailed part of the Milky Way. You can find it by first locating the Teapot asterism, which forms the constellation’s hub, close to a notably bright swathe of the Milky Way. A scan of Sagittarius with binoculars or small telescope will reveal many rich star clusters and bright nebulae.

The Teapot asterism is made up of eight stars. Its stubby spout is marked by the stars Gamma, Epsilon, Lambda and Delta Sagittarii, while Phi, Sigma, Zeta, and Tau make its handle. Scattered around the Teapot are some interesting binocular and small telescope targets, including the bright Lagoon Nebula M8, the magnitude 4.6 open cluster M25, and the globular cluster M22. A small telescope shows many of M22’s brightest stars. It is the third-brightest globular cluster in the sky and can be seen with just the naked eye in particularly dark and clear skies. M8, the Lagoon Nebula, located above the spout of the Teapot, is a glowing cloud of gas and a stunning sight through binoculars. It appears as a misty patch with the star cluster NGC 6530 nestled within it.

Looking north, the wonderful globular cluster M5 is high in the sky at this time. It is roughly 25,000 light-years away from Earth, towards the constellation Serpens Caput. A small telescope brings many of its outer stars into focus. A short hop east over Ophiuchus into Serpens Cauda and you will find the open cluster M16 surrounded by the much fainter Eagle Nebula. And if you look at the moon on July 24 you will see Saturn close by, then the following night Jupiter will be near the moon.

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the July 2021 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.