Starry Summer Nights
Posted July 24, 2008
“North Carolina summers are bad for stargazing!” I’ve heard it said many times. But, the summer is actually my favorite time to do stargazing.
“But the nights are short!” OK, that’s true. Thanks to that pesky 23.5 degree tilt of Earth's axis, we experience seasons, and during the summer, our nights may only have 7-8 hours of total darkness. You have to be a bit of a night owl, and either stay up late or wake up early for any significant stargazing.
“But it’s humid and hazy!” Yes, we often have humid summer nights here in the Triangle. Crisp, clear nights are few and far between. Light pollution is more obvious when it’s humid (more water vapor in the air for light to scatter light), but if you get far enough away from city lights, a typical summer night can produce a very nice sky.
Despite its drawbacks, the summer does have one major advantage for stargazing: it’s warm at night! With overnight lows that are usually between 60 and 75, it’s comfortable, if you can bear the additional humidity. No need to bring blankets, gloves, hats, and hot chocolate like those hoping to watch the Geminid meteor shower in December.
So, go out about an hour after sunset this summer and do some stargazing. You’ll find Scorpius and Sagittarius hangout out low on the southern horizon. This summer, Jupiter will be blazingly bright in the southern sky, just to the east of Sagittarius, all summer long. Look for Boötes and Virgo in the west, and the summer triangle in the East. Good luck!