Celestial Treats Hide Inside the Summer Triangle
The Summer Triangle (clockwise from top): bright stars Vega, Altair and Deneb are intersected by the disk of the Milky Way.
The Summer Triangle is one of the most easily recognized groups of stars in Northern Hemisphere skies.
The Triangle is depicted by the brightest stars of the constellations Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila, and dominates the sky during the warmer months of summer. Within its boundaries, there are some great celestial objects for the novice astronomer -- not only are they bright, but they really pack a punch through the eyepiece so they are well worth hunting down.
The star Vega marks the north-west corner of the Summer Triangle and is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra. If you look to the south-east of Vega you will be able to see a fainter parallelogram of stars and, if you turn even a small telescope between the two southernmost stars, you will find a faint fuzzy blob.
This inconspicuous object is a star that has reached the end of its life and leaves our night sky with a beautiful planetary nebula. It is known as the Ring Nebula, or M57, and as its name suggests, it looks like a stunning celestial smoke ring hovering against the inky black depths of space. Even a small telescope will show respectable views.
Deneb represents the north-east corner of the Triangle and, at the same time, marks the tail of Cygnus the swan. The star at the head of the swan sits at the very center of the Summer Triangle and is known as Albireo. Through small telescopes this stunning binary star resolves into yellow and blue individual stars.
Just under half-way between Altair (the star at the southern tip of the Triangle) and Sadr, the star at the center of the cross in the constellation of Cygnus is another planetary nebula, but one whose appearance differs significantly from the Ring Nebula.
M27, or the Dumbbell Nebula, can just about be detected with binoculars as a fuzzy patch, but telescopes with low to medium power will reveal a fuzzy blob that resembles a dumbbell or bow tie. As aperture is increased, the nebula appears brighter due to the greater amount of light being collected and under dark skies, subtle detail can be seen in the cloud.
One of my favorite sights though has to be a naked eye view of the entire area. The warm summer air, a dark sky and the glittering stars showing us the Triangle can look incredible. The view is enhanced by the Milky Way stretching straight through the Triangle with dark dust lanes piercing through the distant starlight.
With the summer nights drawing to a close, take the opportunity to hunt down the objects around the Summer Triangle.