This is a plan for a star party with some constraints:
- Bright lighting (expected to be used at community events, at places such as school with property lights on)
- Young observers (Scout or school audiences)
- July (summer objects)
- Early evening (twilight ends between 8:30 and 9:00). I expect to use this on evenings when the Moon does not rise till later. On nights when the Moon is up you could add that; it’s a good target for kids. Because the other targets in this plan are bright, they should work acceptably in moonlight.
- Bright objects, easy to find and mostly also visible to the kids’ naked eyes
- Examples of the major categories of sky objects
- Fun, large, colorful objects that kids tend to appreciate more than small faint fuzzies
Plan by type of object
Different planets are visible in the evening from year to year. You will need to look up what is visible when you use this plan. The bright, easy-to-see planets that might be in the sky in the evening are:
- Mercury (but it is always difficult to find low on the horizon
Everybody has heard of Mars, but it usually appears as only a pale orange dot. It is exciting when you know what it is, or if you can see surface features at high magnification, but Mars is usually not a successful choice for an easy target with youth.
Only occasionally does a bright comet appear in the sky. If you hear of an opportunity to show one, take advantage of it.
The best nebulas are easy to see in other parts of the year.
The Milky Way contains many dust lanes, best seen now.
- Trifid Nebula M20 in Sagittarius.
- The Milky Way is high, spanning most of the sky in the summer..
- The Whirlpool Galaxy M51 in Canes Venatici. A faint fuzzy, and so not a great target for kids, unless high magnification can make the spiral structure visible.
- M81 and M82 in Ursa Major. Faint fuzzies, but the close association may give a feeling for how common galaxies are.
- The Big Dipper in Ursa Major, though it is so spread out it does not impress kids as a cluster. All but two of its stars are in the Ursa Major Moving Group. Technically, it has spread out more than groups we typically call clusters.
- Coma Berenices Cluster Mellotte 110 in Coma Berenices, high between Ursa Major’s handle and Virgo. Technically the entire constallation is not a cluster, but the Coma Berenices Cluster dominates the constellation.
All globulars look like small faint fuzzies to kids. But summer features two that illustrate what a globular is:
- The Great Hercules Cluster M13 in Hercules. Best example.
- M3 globular cluster in Canes Venatici. Difficult to find. Right ascension 13h 42m 11.62s, Declination +28° 22′ 38.2″, halfway along a line from Arcturus to Cor Caroli.
- Dumbell Nebula M27 in Vulpecula, between Cygnus and Delphinius. Rises late at night in the spring, easier to find in the summer. Among the brightest planetary nebulas. Right ascension 19h 59m 36.340s Declination +22° 43′ 16.09″
- Arcturus in Bootes (red giant, some class it as yellow)
- Antares in Scorpius (red giant)
- Regulus in Leo (blue giant)
- ρ (rho) Cassiopeiae is a yellow hypergiant, a very rare type of star. 23h 54m 23.0s +57° 29′ 58″. Below the line of Cassiopea formed by α (alpha) and β (beta).
- La Superba Y Canum Venaticorum, red carbon star in Canes Venatici. 12h 45m 24.2s +45° 24′ 49″.
- Albireo, beta Cygni in Cygnus. Many consider this the most beautiful double star in the sky.
- Mizar and Alcor in Ursa Major
- ι (iota) Cassiopeiae in Cassiopea
- Polaris (you will need high magnification to split the double)
- Cor Caroli carbon star in Canes Venatici, high, under the handle of the Big Dipper
- Ursa Major, with asterism Big Dipper upside down
- Ursa Minor, with asterism Little Dipper
- Canes Venatici
- Corona Borealis
- Coma Berenices
- Zodiacal constellations:
- Summer Triangle, an asterism composed of
- Vega in Lyra
- Deneb in Cygnus
- Altair in Aquilla
Plan in target order
story of King Charles and the hunting dogs
High, beneath the handle of the Big Dipper.
Y Canum Venaticorum, red carbon star. 12h 45m 24.2s +45d 24′ 49″
α (alpha) Canum Venaticorum, double star
belongs to the story of Andromeda and Perseus
ι (iota) Cassiopeiae
story of creation of constellation, Rotating Man and Woman
Mizar and Alcor
Most likely an optical double, though uncertainty in the measurements is an interesting science lesson. Mizar is a 4-star system.
double star (now known to be a triple, the third member only recently seen for the first time)
Story of a Star Life
- Sagittarius Star Cloud
- Birthplace of stars.
- A main sequence star.
- Example of planet formation. Rings are common.
- Albiereo in Cygnus
- Many stars are found in pairs.
- Coma Berenices
- Open cluster. Stars are often born together, and are found in clusters after their creation.
- Great Hercules Globular Cluster M13
- A larger grouping of stars.
- Milky Way Galaxy
- An even larger grouping of stars. Galaxies are important structures in the larger universe.
- A blue giant. A large star may become this instead of a main sequence star.
- A red giant. A main sequence star in old age may become this.
- Dumbell Nebula M27 in Vulpecula
- A planetary nebula. An older star sheds its outer layer to make a nebula. This is the brightest summer candidate.
- Polaris B
- A white dwarf is the core remnant after a giant loses mass. We probably won’t be able to distinguish the white dwarf
- Crab Nebula M1
- A supernova remnant. A supernova is another possible end of star life. This is not easy to see. A supernova might leave behind a white dwarf, a neutron star, or a black hole.
- Sagittarius A*
- A black hole. You can’t actually see it, but you can point out the location of the black hole at the center of our own galaxy. A black hole is another possible end of star life.