As the nights get longer here in the northern hemisphere, the stars seem to shine brighter and with a more ethereal glow. These fall nights feature the start of new winter constellations while still retaining many of the most beautiful summer constellations. If you find yourself out just after twilight and you have a clear view of the southern skies, be sure to look for the teapot shaped set of stars. If you can find the slightly illuminated strip of stars that forms the Milky Way and follow it to the horizon, you will find Sagittarius.
When the ancient Greeks looked up to this set of stars, they identified them as the centaur Chiron firing his bow into the heart of Scorpio, an equally beautiful constellation. For modern astronomy, this constellation has tremendous significance. At current count, 16 of the main stars of the constellation have planetary systems, the most of any constellation. Additionally, within the constellation lies the center of the Milky Way galaxy. While we cannot see it, a supermassive black hole lies in Sagittarius, around which we rotate to form the beautiful spiral arms of the galaxy.
Personally, Sagittarius is a favorite constellation of mine. It is easily recognizable, and when you spot it, you will have found the Milky Way’s most dense and visible section. The constellation also has Lagoon Nebula, which if you have a telescope, should be one of your first targets since it is both easy to find and colorful. If you are having a hard time finding this stunning set of stars, look to the south-west up about 10 degrees (remember to use one fist at arm’s length to find this angle). In Golden, this is entirely worth a night-time hike up South or North Table Mountain or a trip up to a higher elevation in the mountains with a view in that direction. If this does not work, you can use the tools on the internet, especially that of http://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/Yoursky.
Peace, and may the stars shine brightly in your skies.