We live in an amazing universe. The wonder of it all from our perspective is that we can get a glimpse of it as near as our back door. Just look up! You can go on a great adventure, full of mystery, learning and wonder. The sight-seeing is amazing. Best of all, you don’t need to make any great travel plans, and it is all free.

We live in an amazing universe. The wonder of it all from our perspective is that we can get a glimpse of it as near as our back door. Just look up!

You can go on a great adventure, full of mystery, learning and wonder. The sight-seeing is amazing. Best of all, you don’t need to make any great travel plans, and it is all free.

Surely, we can spend thousands of dollars if we wish, buying large telescopes and other equipment. Fortunately good, small telescopes are available for much less, and binoculars are just fine for expanding your vision across the heavens. Eyes, alone, however, are sufficient for the broad view.

As long as you have a good opening to the sky between trees, hills and buildings, and are away from direct glare, you can see the moon, bright planets and a host of stars. If you are so blessed to be in a reasonably dark rural area, your perception extends far deeper. You can go from seeing hundreds of stars to thousands, and with a small telescope, millions come within your reach.

The grand Milky Way Galaxy unfolds before your eyes on a clear, dark summer night. Around 11 p.m., extending from the north-northeast in the constellation Cassiopeia, the Milky Way Band spans high in the east and down in the south. The Milky Way may be easiest to see high up in the east, well above the horizon haze and concentrated light pollution from nearby towns.

The stars of Cygnus the Swan dominate this part of the Milky Way, traced easily like a cross on its side- and nicknamed the Northern Cross. The brightest star in Cygnus is called Deneb.

Beginning in Cygnus and extending down in the south, you can witness on a good night, how the Milky Way widens and splits. The Milky Way Band does not really divide in two; vast dark clouds of dust - dark nebulae - filter through the Milky Way, and in this area, the nebulae stand as a silhouette, hiding the light of the more distant parts of the Band. Aquilia the Eagle is the dominant constellation here. Altair is the brightest star of the Eagle.

Look overhead, away from the Milky Way Band, for the brilliant star Vega.

The Milky Way Band becomes very wide down at the horizon as seen from mid-northern latitudes. Light pollution and haze unfortunately hide the glory of this region from most of us. This is the direction of the central hub of our great spiral galaxy, which is most brilliant. The brighter stars  of Sagittarius the Archer are found here, making the shape of a teapot. Mots intriguing, the billowing Milky Way Band seems to rise from the teapot’s spout like steam.

In May, I had an opportunity to be in Haiti as part of a short-term mission trip. We spent a night high in the mountains, far from any city. Sleepless, I stepped out and looked up. I stood in absolute awe as the whole sky was shifted up due to the large difference in latitude. Alpha Centauri and the Southern Cross were in view, never seen from Pennsylvania, where I live.

The hub of the Milky Way stood much higher in the sky. There, in the dark, transparent Caribbean air, the light of the galaxy was actually BRIGHT. I have never before described the Milky Way Band as “bright,” but there it was. A great infusion of stars stood out against the dark sky, and the teeming Milky Way hub gave a faint illumination to the floor of the deck where I stood. It was incredible.

Wherever we see the sky, there is wonder waiting us. Enjoy the trip!

Full moon is on Aug. 1.

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Keep looking up!