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By Mark Jankowski
Cultures long ago that mapped out the sky with constellations did not include all the stars.
The dimmer stars simply did not have any value. The gods saw them as unimportant so then the earliest sky watchers deemed those dim stars the same—unimportant. If the stars were unimportant then there was no need to include them in a figure of bright stars honoring a deity.
There were a few constellations named later in history to fill the sky. They used some of those forgotten dim stars. These groups are lesser known but have big discoveries associated with them.
As the use of constellations changed from ancient cultures to modern cultures, no longer were they for calendars, clocks, or directions. Instead they were for marking locations of bright deep space objects discovered while exploring the sky with a telescope.
The new use of the stars made the new breed of sky gazers fill in the blank spots not identified by a constellation. Those dim useless stars finally received a purpose.
Some astronomers with little imagination named groups after scientific instruments such as the “microscope” and the “telescope.” These constellations received names to honor inventions of their times. Other groups received names to honor kings and heroes in recent times.
Scutum is a small group south of the summer triangle. The name honors the Polish King Sobieski. Charles Messier located a bright object while looking for comets and numbered the object M11 in his catalog.
The object was an open cluster, which is a large cluster of stars that share a central point of gravity.
M11 or the Wild Duck cluster is an excellent telescope target. The shape of the cluster resembles ducks in flight, which is the reason for the name Wild Duck. High overhead are some other lesser-known groups with even bigger discoveries.
The three bright stars overhead this time of year form the summer triangle. These stars help to locate the Fox and the Lizard. Nestled in the middle of the three main constellations, whose brightest stars form the triangle, a sharp-eyed stargazer can find three stars in the shape of a boomerang, called Vulpecula, which is Latin for the fox. It was named by Jocelyn Bell.
In 1967, astronomers found the first pulsar in the Fox. A pulsar is a neutron star that spins extremely fast. As the star spins, it emits energy much like a lighthouse. When first spotted, astronomers thought the star was an alien civilization emitting a beacon beam.
To the left of the Fox just outside of the north corner of the triangle is another first in a small group of stars. Lacerta the lizard is between Cygnus and Cepheus. The constellation looks like a zigzag line of bright stars. Johannes Hevelius is the astronomer who named the constellation.
Within the borders of this little-known group, astronomers found the first galaxy with an active nucleus. This type of galaxy looks much like any other; the only difference is an active galaxy emits X-rays and gamma rays from the core, possibly from a super massive black hole.
The late summer sky is full of telescopic treasures to seek out in well-known and not-so-known constellations.
Come to Ingram Planetarium to learn the late summer sky and more of the telescopic treasures found above in the heavens. Some of the treasures are even visible with the unaided eye or a pair of binoculars. All a person needs is to look up with a sense of wonderment over the heavens.