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 treasures of 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 & Saturn, our two gas planets, are back with us again. Both are visible in the SSE after dusk and paired together at the start of the month. They will slowly pull away from each other as the month progresses and will be moving westward in a retrograde motion (this is a learning moment) – check out the meaning.

Mars rises in the E three hours after sunset.

Dawn:

Venus is visible in the E at dawn shinning at magnitude -4.5, which is really bright.

Moon:

The Moon is full on the 1st and the new Moon arrives on the 18th.

Meteor Shower: The Perseid’s meteor shower will make its annual appearance and peaks on the night of August 12th. The meteor shower however 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 makeups 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

Astronomy News:

This month we celebrate the life of Margaret Burbidge who would have been 100 years old on the 12th but sadly died this past spring. She was 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 was 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)
    • skymaps.com (The evening sky map for the month)
    • spotthestation.nasa.gov (sign up for alerts for the International Space Station as it passes overhead)