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Be sure to check out the Andromeda Galaxy in the Arizona night skies

(NASA Photo)

As autumn begins here in Arizona later this week and the summer monsoon fades away, cooler, clear and moonless skies will soon become a regular feature.

Next week will be a great time to view the many wonders of our Arizona night skies, as the moon will be near its new phase and will not interfere with your view of some very unique objects.

I am sure that you know we live in one of the spiral arms of a great galaxy we call the Milky Way.

Of the 100 billion or so stars in the Milky Way, our sun is just one small star in this soupy mix of gas and dust.

We lie some 27,000 light years from the center of our galaxy. The nucleus of gas and dust and stars is easy to see if you know just where to look.

I suggest that you head out around 7 p.m. this weekend and find a location that is as far from city lights as possible. With a pair of binoculars in hand, look low in the southwestern sky.

You will be looking at the rich star clouds at the central hub of our galaxy.

The view of this region of the Milky Way is more than spectacular and one that you will remember for a lifetime.

As the night progresses, you will have the opportunity to do something really amazing: Visible in our early autumn skies is another amazing galaxy that you can view with a pair of binoculars.

Known to the ancients as a distant smudge in the night sky, that galaxy is known as M31, or the great Andromeda Galaxy.

Andromeda is the nearest major galaxy — about 2.5 million light years — to the Milky Way.

It is much more massive than ours. The galaxy is more than 220,000 light years in diameter and may contain over one trillion stars.

Technically, it is visible to the naked eye on a dark, moonless night, but a pair of binoculars will reveal this object’s detail.

Looking for the constellation of Andromeda is easy: Look to the northeastern sky around 9 p.m. for the large constellation of Pegasus and its four bright stars that form the square of Pegasus.

Andromeda begins at the far left star of the square and continues to the upper left.

Here is a chart for to help you find the Andromeda galaxy.

The galaxy will appear nearly the size of the full moon and maybe larger if you count the faint spiral arms.

Remember, you are looking back some 2.5 million years in time when you observe this object.

Here’s an interesting fact for you: The Andromeda Galaxy will one day collide with the Milky Way and form a super galaxy about 4.5 billion years in the future.

Here is a link to the September star chart, so you can follow along with others on the wonders of the night sky.


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