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How can I see the Teapot and Teaspoon asterism?

Published: 31st July, 2022 at 18:00
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During July and August, low above the southern horizon, lurk two tea-related asterisms.

An asterism is a pattern of stars which hasn’t been officially recognised. In essence, anyone can create an asterism, but only the really relatable ones gain traction and stick. The tea-related asterisms both belong to Sagittarius the Archer.

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Sagittarius is so far south that from the UK it never fully rises. The bit that does rise contains a set of stars that resemble a teapot. It may take you a few minutes to sort out the view, but once you do, the pattern is quite striking.

The two stars that form the apex and western base of the lid of the teapot, along with the star marking the base of the spout, form the mythological centaur’s bow. They are called, from north to south, Kaus Borealis, Kaus Meridionalis and Kaus Australis. ‘Kaus’ means ‘bow’, so here you have the northern, middle and southern bow.

How can I see the Teapot and Teaspoon? © Pete Lawrence
The teapot and teaspoon asterism is part of the constellation Sagittarius © Pete Lawrence

If you have binoculars, take a look at where you’d expect to see the steam rising out of the teapot’s spout. This is a part of the sky where you can see a lot of deep-sky objects. This is because when you look out into space in this direction, you’re facing the very heart of our Milky Way. Here you’ll find the bright Lagoon Nebula (M8) and fainter Trifid Nebula (M20) above it, together with numerous rich clusters and star cloud regions further to the north.

To the northeast (upper-left) of the teapot sits a fainter and smaller asterism which is known as the Teaspoon. Although together the Teaspoon and Teapot may appear to trivialise the majesty of one of the night sky’s constellations, their purpose is to make it easier to navigate around what would otherwise be a visually confusing
part of the sky.

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Authors

Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and astrophotographer, and a presenter on BBC's The Sky at Night.

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