Highlights of the August Night Sky
By Bob Haskins
Do your part and help preserve the dark skies that we are fortunate to have in Waterville Estates. Turn off all unnecessary outdoor lighting.
Go outside tonight and discover the night sky
The Planets: “Evenings on the Ecliptic” The planets follow an imaginary line in the sky called the ecliptic.
Jupiter can’t be missed low in the WSW 45 minutes after the Sun sets. Also look for the fairly bright star Spica to its left.
Saturn can be seen in the south one hour after sunset just to the left of the star Antares in the constellation. Scorpius which is often referred to as the “Rival of Mars” because of its red color.
Venus is visible just before dawn in the east.
Meteor Shower: The Perseid’s meteor shower will make it’s annual appearance and peaks on the night of August 12th. The waning Moon rises before midnight, so conditions will not be ideal this year.
Stars and Constellations:
The brilliant stars of Summer have arrived. Vega, Deneb and Altair are now prominent, high in the northeast*. These three stars makeup the “Summer Triangle”. Vega is almost directly overhead and is the brightest of the three. Look east or to the left for Deneb which makes up the tail of the “Swan” constellation and then to the right to view the star Altair in the constellation “Eagle”. Once you see the Summer Triangle you will never forget it. As the sky grows darker, you will be able to make out the wing and then the body of the Swan. This constellation actually looks like what it is supposed to represent. If the sky is really dark, you will be able to see the Swan flying through our own Milky Way Galaxy.
This month is an excellent time to view our Milky Way Galaxy (edge on). We are located on the edge of our galaxy and as you view the Swan you are actually looking through our whole galaxy. You will see what appears to be a cloud. Although impressive under a dark sky, the Milky Way would look even brighter if space dust didn’t block most of its light. The galaxy’s core alone would shine as bright as the full moon.
Once again, look for the brightest star in the sky this time of year, Arcturus. It will be in the WSW. You can’t miss it. Remember, follow the arc, the handle of the big dipper, to Arcturus and you will spy Spica.
- Refer to the diagram from Chet Raymo’s book, 365 Starry Nights
On August 21ST The Great American Eclipse will sweep 2,500 miles across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. Anyone in its 70 mile-wide path will witness a total eclipse and everyone else from northern Mexico to southern Canada will see a partial eclipse. This is the first time in 1500 years that a similar eclipse has occurred in the U.S. At Waterville Estates we will see a partial eclipse where 70% of the Sun will be covered by the Moon.
On Sunday August 13th I will give a presentation on the upcoming eclipse at 11:00 am in the Summit Lounge.
Tip / Factoid of the Month:
The largest single object in the night sky is our Milky Way Galaxy which makes a full 360º circuit around the heavens – our home. We are located in the suburbs so to speak on the outskirts of our galaxy. The center of our galaxy, the central bulge which contains a black hole, lies between the constellations Scorpius and the Teapot. We cannot see the center because it is hidden by gas clouds. We are not alone, our universe contains 100 billion other galaxies.
Astronomy Websites to explore:
- heavens-above.com (satellites that are passing overhead)
- com (The evening sky map for the month)
- nasa.gov (sign up for alerts for the International Space Station as it passes overhead)