What’s in the Sky Tonight – Summer Season

Summer in the Northern Hemisphere (June through September) is a great time for astrophotography since the nighttime sky is pointing directly into the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy. This part of the sky is rich in bright and colorful nebulae. This applies to both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. Many of these objects are observable in both hemispheres. Naturally, nighttime is longer in the Southern Hemisphere, since it is winter down there, and some of these objects have relatively low declinations and will appear higher in the sky in the Southern Hemisphere than in the Northern Hemisphere. Here are my recommendations for what to see in the sky tonight during summer in the Northern Hemisphere. All of these objects are suitable for viewing in a reasonably dark sky or for photographing.

M17: The Swan or Omega Nebula. This beautiful nebula’s coordinates are RA 18hr 20′ 48″ and Dec -16º 11′ 00″. The best time to view this object is early June through late September or early October in Sagittarius. It has an angular size of approximately 11′, which is perfect for medium-sized focal lengths and sensors.

NGC 7000 and IC 5070: The North American and Pelican Nebulae. These two objects are named for their obvious shapes and have coordinates near RA 20hr 50′ 48″ and Dec 44º 21′ 00″. This is a large complex consisting of two nebulae with an angular size of approximately 2º x 8º. It is large and requires a short focal length to get it all in one frame. Or mosaic techniques can combine several adjacent frames into one large one. Its northerly declination places it high in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere, but it is only visible in the more northerly latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, for example, Darwin, Australia, or north of that latitude. It is best viewed from early June to late October or early November in Cygnus.

M8: The Lagoon Nebula. This object is also in Sagittarius and has coordinates of RA 18hr 03′ 42″ and Dec -24º 23′ 00″. It is best viewed in late June through early September in the Northern Hemisphere or for a week or two earlier and later in the Southern Hemisphere. It has an angular size of approximately 45′ x 30′. As demonstrated in the image, with a wide-field setup, this object can even be framed with the next object, M20: The Trifid Nebula.

M20: The Trifid Nebula. This multi-colored nebula, also in Sagittarius, has an angular size of 28′. Its coordinates are RA 18hr 02′ 42″ and Dec -22º 58′ 00″. Its more southerly declination makes it suitable for both hemispheres, but it favors the Southern. It is best viewed from early June through mid or late September.

M16: The Eagle Nebula. A small portion of this object is the subject of the famous “Pillars of Creation” Hubble Telescope image. It is in the Constellation Serpens and has coordinates of RA 18hr 18′ 48″ and Dec -13º 47′ 00″. It is far enough south to favor the Southern Hemisphere, or Northern Hemisphere cities at the latitude of Los Angeles or farther south. Its angular size of 7makes it ideal for medium-sized sensors and focal lengths. Favorable times are from mid-June to early October.

M27: The Dumbbell Nebula. This multi-colored nebula is named for its general shape in either its blue or red components and is in the Constellation Vulpecula. Its coordinates are RA 19hr 59′ 36″ and Dec 22º 43′ 18″, and its angular size is 6.7. This small size is ideal for longer focal lengths or smaller sensors. It is best viewed from mid-June to early October and favors the Northern Hemisphere or Southern Hemisphere north of Sydney. The best time for this object is late June to early November in the Northern Hemisphere.

M57: The Ring Nebula. This nebula looks just like a smoke ring when seen in the eyepiece. Photography is necessary to appreciate any color. It is in the Constellation Lyra with coordinates RA 18hr 53′ 35″ Dec 33º 01′ 47″ and an angular size of 3′ x 2.4. Its very small size requires a long focal length to achieve the required magnification. Its position favors the Northern Hemisphere or cities north of Darwin, Australia in the Southern. Mid-June to mid-October is the best time for this object. Image is from Nasa Gallery.

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