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.
Dusk and into the night:
Jupiter: Look for the brilliant planet directly south right above the constellation Scorpius and the red star” Antares”-often referred to as the “rival of Mars”. Jupiter is highest in the sky at nightfall which is great for the early to bed people.
Saturn: Look to the left of Jupiter and down a bit and you will spot Saturn. It is slightly to the left of the constellation Sagittarius or the “Teapot”. See if you can recognize the shape of the teapot.
Meteor Shower: The Perseid’s meteor shower will make it’s annual appearance and peaks on the night of August 12th. The shower this year coincides with the nearly full moon and will hamper your viewing somewhat. However, the shower is active a week before and a week after. Set the alarm and go out at midnight or before dawn to see the show.
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 12th we celebrate the birthday of Margaret Burbidge who will be 100 years old. She is the astronomer who taught us that we are all made of stardust. She had a long and stellar career in multiple fields of astrophysics. One of her most significant achievements was formulating our understanding on how elements are created in the life of stars. Her landmark paper, “Synthesis of the Elements in Stars” was published in 1957. Margaret Burbidge is not a household name in the science community and maybe that is because she is a woman.
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)