After the fireworks, another light show: What to look for in Minnesota's night sky

The milky way above Voyageurs.
The Milky Way galaxy is visible from just outside Voyageurs National Park in Crane Lake on Aug. 8, 2016.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2016

Once the fireworks are over Wednesday you can still enjoy a free light show, just look up!

Summer in Minnesota brings with it a few constellations you can't see any other time of year.

There is Aquila, Cygnus and Lyra, whose brightest stars — Deneb, Vega and Altair — form what is known as the Summer Triangle. To easily find these stars, you'll first want to find the Big Dipper. This collection of seven bright stars resembles a pot or "drinking gourd" and should be easy to spot if you look north after sunset. The constellation is present year-round. From the star where the handle meets the rest of the dipper, look east and you should spot the three bright stars that form a triangle if you imagine lines connecting them.

After that, try looking to the south to spot Sagittarius and Scorpius. Look for the reddish tint of the star Antares, that marks the middle of Scorpius' body, and follow it down to see the hooked tail of the scorpion in the sky. Directly east you should be able to see Sagittarius, given away by the curved line of stars that make up the bow wielded by this ancient centaur.

If you're able to track down Sagittarius, point your telescope directly above it, you should get a great view of Saturn which will be tipped to show "near-maximal amount of surface area," according to Minnesota Starwatch, a monthly newsletter by the University of Minnesota that describes what you can see in the night sky. Mars is also bright this time of year, so when you're done oohing and ahhing over Saturn, look east.

But knowing where to find these wonders won't do you any good if there's too much light pollution. For those in the Twin Cities metro, you'll likely have to drive a few miles out of town before you're able to see any stars at all. You can check light pollution in your area and plan your route by checking this handy map.

And for some helpful graphics, guides and a 360 video of the night sky, check out Skunk Bear's summer constellations guide here.

Another great resource is Sky Maps, a monthly guide to the night sky that includes a helpful map as well as written instructions and tips.

For in-person help, reserve a Friday or Saturday night this summer for Universe in the Park, a telescope observing program put on by the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics. Experts give a short presentation on a variety of astronomical-related topics, then allow attendees to look through telescopes, ask questions and just discuss the hobby they love. These events are free but take place in state parks so keep in mind you'll likely need to pay for a parking permit.

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