Our own home galaxy will be the star of the show tonight.
The crescent moon sets early on Thursday (Sept. 1), making the sky extra dark — ideal for viewing clusters of stars throughout the Milky Way galaxy with a backyard telescope.
The Milky Way will be visible in the southern horizon throughout September, along with the countless knots and clusters of stars scattered throughout the galaxy. Many Messier objects will be visible on Thursday (Sept. 1), including Messier 39 and the Cooling Tower Cluster in Cygnus the Swan, the Wild Duck cluster and Messier 26 in the Scutum constellation, the Sagittarius Star Cloud, and Ptolemy’s Cluster and the Butterfly Cluster in Scorpius.
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With the exception of the Sagittarius Star Cloud, all of these are open star clusters. The Milky Way is home to over known 1,000 of these clusters, but astronomers have predicted that the number could be exponentially higher, according to the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. These open clusters are groups of stars that formed at nearly the same time in the same nebulas, the dense clouds of gas, dust, and other matter that give birth to stars when gravity pulls this material together.
Open clusters tend to form irregular shapes and contain anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred stars. Globular clusters, by contrast, can contain up to hundreds of thousands stars.
Astronomers use open clusters to study star evolution, as most stars in these clusters tend to be young, cosmically speaking; most of the open clusters in the Milky Way are younger than 1 billion years old.
To spot these clusters in Thursday’s night sky, first locate them with binoculars, then use a telescope at low magnification to get a closer look.
If you’re looking for a telescope or binoculars with which to observe the star clusters of the Milky Way, our guides for the best binoculars deals and the best telescope deals now can help. Our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography can also help you prepare to capture the next skywatching sight on your own.
Editor’s Note: If you snap a photo of star clusters and would like to share it with Space.com’s readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to firstname.lastname@example.org.