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Celebrate the Milky Way This August

Join Astronomers Without Borders from August 1 to 7 to learn more about our home galaxy.

The Summer Triangle, as photographed from Japan

The Milky Way appears to pass between the bright stars Vega, near the top of this photo, and Altair, on the right.


Our friends at Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) are organizing a worldwide celebration of the Milky Way.

The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy containing at least 100 billion stars—including our own Sun. From our perspective on Earth, we see the galaxy edge-on, as a faint band of light running across the sky.

Inspired by a Japanese Festival

AWB’s four-day event, which runs from August 1 to 7, has been inspired by Tanabata, a Japanese summer festival.

Tanabata celebrates the story of two lovers, represented by the stars Vega and Altair, who are separated by a river. When seen in a clear and dark sky, the ‘river’ of the Milky Way passes between Vega and Altair.

Traditionally, Tanabata takes place on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, which—this year—is August 4. Nowadays in Japan, many people celebrate Tanabata on the seventh day of the seventh month according to the Gregorian calendar—which is July 7 every year.

A Triangle in the Sky

Together with the star Deneb, Vega and Altair form a grouping known as the Summer Triangle.

It’s a big triangle: the distance in the sky between Vega and Altair is 34 degrees. For comparison, the size of your fist held at arm’s length is about 10 degrees.

A Night Sky Map of the Summer Triangle in the eastern sky above New York.

The Summer Triangle—formed by the stars Vega, Altair, and Deneb—is seen here on our Night Sky Map in the eastern sky above New York at 21:00 local time (9 pm) on August 4.


A Shared Heritage

“AWB believes in using the power of astronomy to build community and raise awareness that we all have a shared heritage in the night sky,” Andrew Fazekas, AWB’s communications manager, told timeanddate.

“The Milky Way exemplifies this. Humanity's connection to our home galaxy we see stretched out above our heads crosses cultural, religious, and geographical borders.”

Details of AWB’s plans are available on their website.

“Programs include video presentations, blogs, livestreams, and photo galleries,” says Andrew. “These will help folks around the world explore the Milky Way via cultural stories, artwork, and online remote telescope tours of deep-sky treasures.

“We’ll also have tips and tricks on photographically capturing the Milky Way, and articles on how to observe our home galaxy with binoculars and telescopes.”