Highlights of the August Night Sky
Brought to you by: Bob Haskins @ Waterville Estates
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.
Another great month for planet watching!
Venus: Absolutely sparkles all month long in the evening sky. When you walk outside after sunset you can’t miss Venus low in the WSW shining at magnitude -4.6. At the end of the month Venus closes in on the star Spica.
Jupiter: Look for Jupiter in the SW after sunset. It will be to the left and above Venus.
Saturn: Look for Saturn in the SSE. The ringed planet shines just above the “Teapot” constellation 1 hour after sunset.
Mars: The Red Planet is closest to the Earth,at the beginning of the month,than it has been in 15 years and brighter than it has been since 2003.
Meteor Shower: The Perseid’s meteor shower will make it’s annual appearance and peaks on the night of August 12th.The new Moon on the 11th promises optimal viewing conditions for the meteor shower this year. Set the alarm and go out at midnight or before dawn to see the show. Don’t miss it.
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
The Space Invaders:
How great is the threat that a giant asteroid will strike the Earth and do us serious harm? I remember when Arlene and I, in 1994, went to Brown University to witness the impact of comet Shoemaker when it struck Jupiter. It was an amazing sight. At the time congress mandated that NASA assess the threat of an asteroid that could cause a global catastrophe here on Earth. As of to-date the risk of our civilization ending in a disaster has been largely put to bed. However there are still an estimated 50 objects lurking in the shadows that are potential threats which NASA is searching for. NASA is also in the process of searching for the smaller ones also.
Comment / Factoid of the Month:
What does it mean when we say the moon is waxing or waning?
The moon revolves around the Earth roughly once every 28 days and as it does we see different angles of the moon’s illuminated surface. The light we see coming from the moon is a result of the Sun’s rays reflecting off the moon’s surface. When the moon is new it is located between the Earth and the Sun and hence we cannot see it. This is the new moon. For the next roughly 14 days we say the moon is waxing and the right side is illuminated. Then we have the full moon. After this the moon goes into the waning phase and the left side is now illuminated.
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)