Much of the year we take our daily walk in the daylight or early twilight. But southern Nevada June temps have driven us to wait until after nine in the evening – and even then sometimes it’s still over ninety degrees.
The upside? Getting reacquainted with the night sky. Our RV resort has an irregular shape, so as we walk its one-mile perimeter, we can take in the 360 degrees of the night sky from a range of viewing angles.
To the west as we begin our walk, Venus, Jupiter, and Leo’s largest star, Regulus, hang suspended like brilliant spangles on the strand of a necklace. I can’t remember seeing Venus look so large or so bright, but it turns out this happens every eight years or so, a combination of when it is closest to earth, and when its angle to the sun illuminates the greatest portion of its surface, from earth’s point of view. Watch your night sky the next two or three nights to see the waxing crescent moon in the vicinity of this stunning necklace. Here’s a photo I took at dusk in April in southern Arizona, waxing crescent and Venus.
Our next turn takes us facing south. Arcturus is nearly overhead – but we’ve learned we can always find it in any season by following where the handle of the big dipper points. Dropping toward the horizon from there, we find Virgo’s largest star, Spica.
As we turn east, the Summer Triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair (in Lyra, Cygnet and Aquila, or the Lyre, the Swan, and the Eagle) is just starting to rise. When we first bought our telescope and began to study the night sky, this landmark – or perhaps skymark – formed the anchor of our summer sky. In that season it sits directly overhead in the evening, is visible from dusk to dawn, and is a roadmap to the Milky Way.
And finally the north, with the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Cassiopeia, and the North Star, probably the most familiar part of the sky, Why? Because our night sky circulates around the North Star, and these constellations never set, though this week, here, Cassiopeia is lost in the haze close to the mountains on the northern horizon.
This doesn’t always happen, but last night as we gazed north, I suddenly experienced the sensation of being wrapped in splendor and flooded with gratitude.