There is a different kind of joy in looking at the sky when everyone is asleep. One can witness a wide range of objects in the night sky with the naked eye, such as:
- The five brightest planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn)
- Four galaxies (Andromeda, Triangulum, Large & Small Magellanic Clouds)
- The Milky Way Band & center
- Globular clusters
- and objects like meteors, the International Space Station & other satellites, etc.
That being said, not most of us are lucky enough to watch these objects. Light pollution in major cities masks the light coming from the relatively dimmer objects (like the galactic center). Generally, planets are very bright due to their proximity and hence are visible even from the major cities. The Milky Way galaxy has an absolute magnitude of around -20.2 in the night sky in the visible spectrum. For comparison Venus has an absolute magnitude of around -4.47 and Sun has an absolute magnitude of +4.83. Hence, the first thing you need to get rid of to see the galactic center is the Light pollution.
To see the Milky Way Galaxy, you do not necessarily need an excellent dark sky. The band and the galactic center are usually visible even in the rural and suburban skies. You cannot see the galactic center from the city or inner city sky with the naked eye but if you have a binocular or a telescope, your chances increase.
When to find?
Trust me, watching the dusty disk and the galactic center is an amazing experience and if you live in a city, you might consider moving out of the city for a night to experience the cosmic wonder. But unfortunately, the galactic center is not visible during the entire year.
The best time to spot it is during the months of June to November (in both the hemispheres). Between June and August, our galaxy can be seen during the midnight whereas during the months of September to November, evening would be the best time to see it. During all other times, the galaxy would rise usually during the day time.
Also, do not plan for watching it during the full Moon. Check the weather forecast to see if the sky is clear during the time you wish to plan your event.
Where to find?
The galactic center is called as the ‘Sagittarius A*‘. As the name suggests, it lies in the constellation of Sagittarius. To spot the center, take help of star tracking apps to find the constellation of Sagittarius. To be more specific, the galactic band appears to be brightest in the direction of these three constellations- Sagittarius, Ophiuchus and Scorpius.
If you want an even strong indicator, go for finding the Teapot asterism which lies close to the Sagittarius constellation and is shown in most of the star tracking apps. Check the image below to see how The Teapot looks like (Of course, it would look like a teapot!).
How to plan?
Since you would prefer going stargazing during the night time, it is important that you take care of the safety of your friends/family. Find out information about the location beforehand and whether the location is prone to nocturnal animals.
Carry a blanket, some food and snacks and a torch. Don’t forget to carry a mosquito repellent cream to be safe from the deadly insects. Carry a binocular or telescope (if it is portable) with you for a more amazing experience.
If you wish to capture an image of the same, take a long exposure shot so as to see some details that your eyes can’t.
As mentioned previously, August is the best time of the year to see the galactic center during the midnight. So what are you waiting for? Plan a star party with your friends as soon as possible.