Today let us pause a moment to observe the passing of Sagittarius from due south in our night sky. The Friday, September 23 entry from Sky & Telescope’s This Week’s Sky at a Glance reads, “As summer turns to fall, the Sagittarius Teapot moves west of due south right after dark and tips steeply, as if pouring away the last of summer.” So, it’s another sign for us Northern Hemispherians that summer is over. Fall—and subsequently winter—is on the way. The summer constellations are leaving us now, dancing in the glare of the sunlight where we cannot see them.
The constellation of Sagittarius is commonly depicted as a centaur—human torso, horse body—with a raised bow and arrow. It is one of the oldest constellations, but a little hard to distinguish as a bow-wielding centaur. And so modern stargazers frequently reduce it to its famous asterism called “The Teapot.” An asterism is a group of stars that is not recognized as an official constellation, yet they–like The Teapot, The Big Dipper, and The Summer Triangle–shine with distinction.
Even if you can’t see the whole centaur, you should be able to spot The Teapot fairly easily. I’ve included a couple of images/maps to aid you. And Sagittarius, or The Teapot, are well worth spotting: for one, it points the way to the galactic center, so you can see the Milky Way there, if you’ve got clear, dark skies; for another, the sun shines in Sagittarius on the December solstice (winter solstice for us Northern Hemispherians). When can you spot Sagittarius or The Teapot? In the evening of late summer and early autumn.
The Milky Way comes between Sagittarius and Scorpius. Scorpius is to the west of Sagittarius, which by now is pretty much done for the year, and so is not on the above star map. Look for the Milky Way on clear, dark nights of summer and autumn, like steam rising from The Teapot’s spout. This is the combined glow of the millions of stars in our galactic disk. A pretty awesome photograph of The Teapot in Sagittarius with some Milky Way goodness can be found here.
Thank you for pausing with me a moment in observance of Sagittarius. And now, oddly enough, I would like to brew a pot of tea.