at the Water's Edge

Living life and learning all I can along the way!

Summertime Constellations

I hope you all had a great 4th of July weekend.  We had a lovely trip to Northern Michigan with family, and I got to do some stargazing one night.  It’s been a while since I’ve had a good chunk of time to look up at the night sky, which means it’s shifted a bit since my last viewing!  Somehow or other, this, along with being in a different setting (i.e. not my backyard), always throw me off a bit.  Nevertheless, I did my best to identify any constellations and stars that I could.  I didn’t get very far, but I got a few:

Big Dipper
Little Dipper


Here’s a view of the main section of the sky I was looking at. 

click to view larger image
I had a good view of both Dippers (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) and Draco (the dragon) snaking right through them.  I learned the constellation Draco with some friends several years ago when we were camping along the beach in Manistee.  We’d go to the lake shore at night to look at the stars, and we noticed this grouping of stars that rather resembled a lop-sided house.  This we learned was actually the head of Draco – and that’s now how I identify the constellation! 

The Big Dipper is usually an easy one, but the Little Dipper is much fainter.  A couple ways that I remember it is that the Little Dipper appears to be pouring into the Big Dipper.  Also, the last two stars that make up the tip of the Big Dipper…if you follow the rough trajectory that they form, you should be able to spot Polaris (the North Star) which is the last star in the handle of the Little Dipper and the brightest star in that constellation.

Cassiopeia looks like a big W in the sky and is easy to recognize because of that.  I didn't realize it would still be visible in July, as I had followed it much of the Fall and Winter.  But sure enough, there it was, low in the sky.

As for the stars, I learned Arcturus a while back, but seem to have trouble remembering that it’s also part of the constellation Bootes, which is pretty easy to spot once you have identified Arcturus.  They say the trick to finding this star is to start with the Big Dipper, then follow the trajectory of the handle in an arc until you reach a bright star, which is Arcturus (Arc to Arcturus).  Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern hemisphere, which also helps make it easy to find!

Vega is another bright star; actually, the second brightest in the northern celestial hemisphere.  Knowing it was one of the brightest stars in the sky is what helped me identify it – although I had to check my star charts when I got home to be certain.  It’s really quite a beautiful star and seems to me to have a bluish hue, unlike Arcturus which appears more orangey-yellow*.

We were able to see a few shooting stars this weekend, too.  I’m hoping for even more beautiful skies as we head up to Isle Royale and later on in July to Manistee.

*As a side note, after listing out the colors of the stars, I decided to see how they were described on Wikipedia…Arcturus is also described there as orangey-yellow – and I thought I was making up a word!

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Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Copernicus. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!