Mini-Documentary Shows Incredible View of the Night Sky

Infinity ² from Uncage the Soul Productions on Vimeo.

Here’s an incredible video that’s as close as it comes to the actual feeling of being under a clear dark sky. Created by Ben Canales and John Waller of Uncage the Soul Productions, this short work features 20 high-school students at a summer astronomy camp in Oregon. The producers simply ask, “What do you feel?” The film also visits the Oregon Star Party where 600 astronomers camp out with their scopes.

This isn’t a timelapse. It’s a video of the night sky in real time. It shows what’s possible with current camera technology, in this case a Canon MH20f-SH set at ISO400,000, along with a fast 20 mm Sigma Art lens.

In this video, along with wide-field views of the late-summer sky, you can see stars reflected in the primary mirror of a big Dob as it turns, a live view of the star Capella through an eyepiece, and a view of the Perseid meteor shower. Just amazing.

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Touring the Backbone of Cygnus, the Swan

The Milky Way through the constellation Cygnus. The dark cloud bisecting the Milky Way is the Great Rift.

The Milky Way through the constellation Cygnus. The dark cloud bisecting the Milky Way is the Great Rift.

In the late days of northern summer, the constellation Cygnus lies nearly overhead in the mid-evening hours. A long, conspicuous constellation, Cygnus stretches along the diffuse arc of the Milky Way and is packed full of lovely deep-sky objects for stargazers of all skill levels.

Cygnus is an ancient star group and goes back at least 2,000 years. In Greek legend, Cygnus was a friend of Phaeton, the son of Helios, the Sun god. Phaeton met his demise while foolishly trying to drive his father’s sun-chariot across the sky. When Phaeton fell into the river Eridanus, Cygnus begged Zeus to turn him into a swan so he could fly down to retrieve his friend’s body. In doing so, however, he gave up his immortality. Zeus was touched by the selfless act of Cygnus in honoring his friend, so he cast the swan in a place of honor in the night sky…

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Almost Heaven (Star Party), West Virginia

The late summer Milky Way from the Almost Heaven Star Party, West Virginia, on Sept. 4, 2016.

The late summer Milky Way from the Almost Heaven Star Party, West Virginia, on Sept. 4, 2016. Click image to enlarge.

Once in a while, you have to get yourself to dark skies. Forget the excuses, the lost sleep, the long drive. Just go. It will regenerate you, reconnect you to the cosmos, and help you remember why you became a stargazer in the first place.

Which is why I powered down the computer and packed a simple Dobsonian telescope, a binoviewer, and a couple of eyepieces and headed out to the Almost Heaven Star Party (AHSP) in West Virginia, an event held this year on September 2-6, 2016…

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The Sky This Month – September 2016

The zodiacal light as seen from La Silla, Chile (credit: ESO).

The zodiacal light as seen from La Silla, Chile (credit: ESO).

Jupiter finally fades from view this month but it goes out in style, attended in the west after sunset by brilliant Venus and, at the beginning of the month, by a slender crescent Moon. Mars lingers in the starry sky of Scorpius and Sagittarius, and finally starts to move eastward and pull away from Saturn and Antares. And the Sun reaches the September equinox and marks the changing of the seasons. Here’s what to see in the night sky this month……

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Touring Clusters and Stars in Ophiuchus

Messier 12 (credit: Hunter Wilson)

Messier 12 (credit: Hunter Wilson)

As befits a large constellation at the edge of the Milky Way, Ophiuchus is packed with deep-sky sights for observers with small and large telescopes. Open and globular star clusters abound here, along with many fine double stars. Let’s have a short tour of a handful of the highlights of the constellation, moving from easy objects to more difficult sights…

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The Constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer

Ophiuchus-oldIn last month’s constellation tour, you explored the faint stars of Serpens Caput, the Snake’s Head. This month, you examine the bearer of this celestial snake, a star group represented by the large constellation Ophiuchus.

Ophiuchus (pronounced “Oaf-ih-YOU-kus”) lies directly opposite the constellation Orion on the celestial sphere. But Ophiuchus is no Orion. The constellation has no bright stars, and you need to expend a fair effort to imagine here a man holding a snake. But Ophiuchus is chock-a-block with globular and open star clusters, as well as dark nebulae in its southern extremes near the border with the constellation Scorpius. In an upcoming article, you’ll get the highlights of the deep-sky sights in Ophiuchus. For now, let’s explore this ancient star group itself…

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A Boost for the Perseid Meteor Shower in 2016?

2012 Perseids Meteor Shower over the Snowy Range in Wyoming (credit: David Kingham)

2012 Perseids Meteor Shower over the Snowy Range in Wyoming (credit: David Kingham)

The Perseid meteor shower, the most reliably active meteor shower of the year, peaks on the night of August 11-12, 2016. A summer favorite of northern stargazers, yet still visible in part in the southern hemisphere, this meteor shower sprays some 50-60 per hour, on average, across the sky. This year the waxing gibbous Moon obscures the view of meteors before midnight, but it sets shortly thereafter and leaves a dark sky during the predicted peak of the shower. And some astronomers are predicting the gravitational influence of Jupiter will make for many more Perseid meteors in 2016 than usual, perhaps as many as 100-200 per hour…

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The Sky This Month – August 2016

perseidIn many ways, August is the best month for stargazing. For northern-hemisphere observers, the weather is still warm but much of the unsettled and humid summer air dissipates and skies become, on average, drier and clearer. Observers in the southern hemisphere enjoy warmer weather as winter nears an end, and the center of the Milky Way, the starriest part of the night sky, still lies just past overhead. And of course, the Perseid meteor shower peaks this month, with some reports suggesting it could be spectacular this year. There are also plenty of planets to see in the evening sky. Here’s what’s going on in the night sky this month:

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The Constellation Serpens Caput, the ‘Snake’s Head’

The region of Ophiuchus and Serpens in a map circa 1825.

The region of Ophiuchus and Serpens in a map circa 1825.

In last month’s constellation tour, we examined the dazzling stars of the constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. This month, we move due south to the northern section of the constellation Serpens, the only constellation split into two parts. These are the stars of Serpens Caput, the ‘head of the snake’, which zigzags vertically along the celestial sphere, just north of the celestial equator, and just west of the much larger constellation Ophiuchus, the ‘serpent bearer’. The stars of Serpens Caput are visible in the northern and southern hemispheres…

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The Night Sky This Month – July 2016

The Milky Way towards the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius.

The Milky Way towards the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius on June 29, 2016 from northern Virginia, USA. Mars is at lower right, Saturn is near center, and Antares is below Saturn.

In July, the Milky Way wheels into view by midnight and draws the eye towards the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius. In the northern hemisphere, these stars lie just over the southeastern horizon by midnight, while southern stargazers see these stars– and the thickest part of the Milky Way– almost directly overhead.

But this July, bright planets distract the eye from the deep sky. Ochre-colored Mars, which outshines all stars at the beginning of July, lies just to the west of the red-orange star Antares at the heart of Scorpius. Sand-colored Saturn lies to the east of Antares. Brilliant Jupiter, always attractive in a telescope, fades in the west in the constellation Leo this month. And Mercury and Venus play cat and mouse later in the month after sunset in the western sky. Here’s what to see in the sky this month…

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