Stargazer's Summer Guide to America
One of the best aspects of spending time outdoors, away from city lights and distractions, is gazing up at the stars at night. This ancient pastime is in our DNA as humans. If you’ve ever taken the time to stare at the night sky, you’ll know just how interesting and peaceful this activity can be. For centuries, our ancestors spent time looking for patterns in the stars. Out of this effort came the constellations. In this guide, we’re going to break down the constellations and astronomical events you can expect to observe this summer in the skies over America. Read on to learn everything you need to know to impress your friends and view some spectacular astronomical phenomena during your next camping trip!
History of Stargazing
The first records of stargazing and astronomy come from Mesopotamia. The Assyro-Babylonians, originating in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) around 1000 BCE, conducted systematic astronomical observations. They documented celestial bodies and their periodic motions, laying the groundwork for our current understanding of astronomy.
However, recent archaeological evidence from sights like Gobekkli Teppe in modern-day Turkey and Gudang Padang in modern-day Indonesia suggest that stargazing and astronomical knowledge go back much further in the human story.
Greek astronomers in the third century BCE, particularly in Alexandria, began using astrometry to estimate cosmic scales. While the dominant view was geocentric, with the Earth at the center of the Universe, there were astronomers like Aristarchus of Samos who supported the heliocentric system. Aristarchus correctly deduced that the Earth revolves around the Sun and attempted to measure the relative distance between the Sun and the Moon using trigonometry. Although his measurement was not precise, it laid the groundwork for understanding the vast distances between celestial bodies.
It was also the Greek tradition that brought us knowledge of the constellations, which are mythological figures conceived from patterns they discovered in the stars. These figures, such as Orion, Pegasus, and Andromeda, are still recognizable and widely known figures today.
Because the Earth rotates on its axis, people living at similar latitudes across the world will experience the same set of stars. That means you could be living in Madrid, Spain, or New York City, New York, and see approximately the same constellations (NYC and Madrid are on the same latitude line). The same, of course, is true for US cities at similar latitudes. For instance, Charleston, South Carolina, and Carlsbad, California, sit at the same latitude so that they will experience the same night sky. Because of the relatively small latitudinal difference between the Northern part of the United States and the Southern half, you can expect the differences in the night sky across the country to be extremely minute.
Constellations of July & August Across the USA
By mid-July, looking East at about midnight, the following constellations should be visible across the US:
This famous winged horse can be seen in the bottom center of the night sky this summer. Pegasus was one of the 48 constellations that the famed-2nd century Greek astronomer Ptolemy listed, and it's still recognised today. The brightest star in the Pegasus constellation is Epsilon Pegasi, an orange supergiant which makes up the horse's muzzle. Look at the picture below to get an idea of what shape you should be looking for.
Andromeda, or the chained woman, is one of the more famous constellations in the night sky. Also listed on Ptolemy's list of 48 constellations, compiled in the second century, this figure is associated with the Greek myth of Cetus the sea monster. As one of the largest constellations in the modern catalogue, it has an area of 722 square degrees. Because of its proximity from our perspective looking out, the nearest galaxy to our own Milky Way shares the constellation name: The Andromeda Galaxy. Here’s what the constellation looks like. It sits just Southwest of Pegasus.
Sagittarius is one of the signs of the Zodiac. The word "sagittarius" is Latin for "archer." You can sometimes view the center of the Milky Way galaxy in the westernmost part of the Sagittarius constellation. It sits to the east of your frame of view in North America. It represents a centaur drawing a bow. The shape looks like this.
Another sign of the Zodiac. This constellation appears a bit faint in the night sky. It's name is the Latin word for "goat." Capricornus represents a horned goat, associated with the Greek god Pan. The globular clusters Messier 30 and Palomar 12 can be seen in this constellation. It sits to the Southeast in the night sky, just below Sagittarius. It looks like this.
Cepheus, also known as “the house,” is a constellation that sits just northwest of the center of your view in the summer. The brightest star in the constellation is Alpha Cephei. Cepheus is also made up of the hyper-luminous quasar S5 0014+81. Though the name may seem innocuous, this quasar is home to an ultra-massive black hole that's 10,000 times more massive than the black hole at the center of our galaxy. It's currently the most massive black hole currently known to be in existence. Cepheus, as the name suggests, the constellation is shaped like a house.
Make sure to look for these constellations and impress your friends and family with your knowledge of the night sky!
Other Astronomical Events in July & August 2023
Stargazing isn’t only about constellations. There are other Astronomical phenomena to view this summer. Below you’ll find a number of astronomical events that you’ll definitely want to look for next time you’re out there stargazing!
Summertime in North America aligns three bright stars in a unique scalene triangle. The stars that make up the shape are Vega, Deneb, and Altair. The shape should be visible to the North from your view and looks something like this.
The following planets will be visible in the night or early morning sky across North America this summer. Keep in mind that precise positioning may vary based on where you are viewing from. For more information on their location, check out this resource.
Mercury: 5:17 AM
Venus: 12:07 AM
Mars: 12:14 AM
Jupiter 2:40 AM
Saturn: 12:41 AM
Uranus: 3:07 AM
Neptune 1:18 AM
Perseids Meteor Shower
The Perseids meteor shower will be in effect between July 14th and September 1st. This meteor shower will reach its climax on August 13th and can be viewed on clear nights across North America. For the best viewing experience, go far outside of a city to avoid light pollution. Usually, around midnight you will be able to count dozens of shooting stars streaking across the sky. This is a great way to enjoy stargazing with friends, as this dynamic phenomenon is extremely beautiful and fun to watch!
We at Renlicon want to encourage you all to get outside and enjoy these amazing astronomical phenomena. And while you wait for the heavenly fireworks to start, be sure to build a roaring fire with Renlicon’s Portable Fire Pit and enjoy the full outdoor experience with those you love most. Get yours at below today!