We make a seasonal transition to fall with the occurrence of the Autumnal Equinox on Thursday, September 22, at 10:21 a.m. EDT. On this date and time, autumn officially begins in the Northern Hemisphere and spring arrives for the Southern Hemisphere.
On these late summer (or early fall) evenings, after the Sun has set, look low in the south for the classical Archer, Sagittarius. Traditionally a centaur (half man, half horse), it’s one of two such creatures in the sky. The other is Centaurus, a large, complex star pattern best viewed in the spring from far-southern localities.
Although tracing out an Archer-Centaur among Sagittarius’ stars does require some imagination, its central part, sometimes called the Milk Dipper, can be imagined as a small, upside-down dipper. But visualizing it as a teapot is even easier. In fact, it is the teapot and not the archer that is portrayed on our weekly star chart.
Many find it a truly delightful pattern: as star pictures go it’s one of the best. More than four decades ago, the late astronomy author and good friend of mine, George Lovi (1939-1993) pointed out that we could augment our tea service with a teaspoon and lemon as well! The teaspoon comprises stars in northern Sagittarius, while the lemon is an alternate rendition of the faint constellation Corona Australis, the Southern Crown.
Originally, this group represented a crown of leaves sometimes worn by the ancients on ceremonial occasions. Bright star clouds near the center of our galaxy are in Sagittarius; a view of this region with binoculars or small telescope can be exciting.