August 2014

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A lot going on this month when school is starting (at least for Pequea) and the summer is coming to a close.  Mars and Saturn have been slowly getting closer to each other in the sunset and are joined by the Moon, while Jupiter and Venus have been getting closer as well, but around sunrise in the opposite direction, and are also joined by the Moon.  Additionally, we have the annual Perseid Meteor Shower on the 12th – 13th.  I wish you clear, dark skies.


PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset – Mars (SW), Saturn (SW)

Planets you can see throughout the night

Planets you can see in the Morning – Venus (E), Jupiter (E, starting the 6th)


Mercury – Hidden in the sun’s glare all month


Venus Venus is on its way into the Sun’s glare this month, making the beginning of the month the best time to look for it in the E after 5:30am with a clear horizon. You may be able to see it up to about 6am.  Closest to the Moon on the 23rd.  Closest to Jupiter on the 18th, just 0.5˚ apart.


Mars – Look in the SW after sunset and look for the visibly red “star”.  It’s hanging out close to Saturn this month, and gets within 3.5˚ of Saturn on the 24th.  Get out before 11pm, since that’s about when Mars sets or is too low to be seen.  Close to the Moon on the 2nd.


Jupiter – Jupiter is on its way out of the Sun’s glare this month and passing Venus very closely on the way.  The best time to look for it in the E is after 5:30am with a clear horizon. You may be able to see it up to about 6am.  Closest to the Moon on the 23rd.  Closest to Venus on the 18th, just 0.5˚ apart.


Saturn – Look in the SW after sunset and look for the brightest “star” in that area.  It’s hanging out close to Mars this month, and gets within 3.5˚ of Mars on the 24th.  Get out before 11pm, since that’s about when Saturn sets or is too low to be seen.  Close to the Moon on the 3rd.  Try taking out your binoculars or telescope to find the rings at its side. 


First Quarter Moon – 3rd (Visible until midnight)


2nd - 4thClose EncounterMars, Moon, Saturn – Check out the First Quarter Moon in the Southwest.  On the 2nd, Mars will be to the left of the Moon and Saturn will be to the left of Mars.  On the next night, the Moon will be right in between Mars and Saturn, and on the 4th the Moon will be to the left of Saturn, which is still to the left of Mars.


Full Moon – 10th (Visible all night) – Largest Full Moon of the year (though you won’t be able to tell)


12th - 13th Perseid Meteor Shower – This is not really a good year for the Perseids, given that the Gibbous Moon will be out after 10pm - the best time to be watching – and will drown out the light of the faintest metoers.  Don’t give up though!  You can still see plenty of them, but only a dozen or so an hour, which is still remarkable. Remember, you’re seeing the bits of dust left over from Comet Swift-Tuttle burning up as they crash into the atmosphere at 37 miles per second.

Some advice for watching:

    Find a dark location and lie down in a reclining chair or swimming pool floaty

    Look toward Perseus (In the NNE around 9pm, rises throughout the night until sunrise where it will be almost directly above.)  That is where the radiant is - where the meteors will appear to be coming from

    The strategy to observe this one is to start watching in the evening and continue until daylight.  The shower is usually technically active from mid July to late August, so you may see some Perseids in the days leading up to and after the peak as well. 

Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear ( has a good map here)

Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something. 

If you’re feeling extra nerdy, do a scientific meteor count.  More info at S&T and IMO


Last Quarter Moon – 17th (Visible from midnight into the morning)


18th – Conjunction – Venus and Jupiter – Jupiter has been rising as Venus has been sinking in the morning sky, and this is when they get extraordinarily close to each other, within 0.5˚ of each other for people in the Americas.  Look to the East in the morning between 5:30am and 6:00am.


23rdClose Encounter – Moon, Venus, Jupiter – a great triad in the morning sky, with Venus low and to the left, Jupiter above Venus, and the Moon off to the right.  Get out there between 5:30 and 6:00am to check it out.


23rd – 26thClose Encounter – Mars, Saturn – Mars has been creeping ever so slowly toward Saturn over the past couple of months, and now it passes the ringed planet within 3.5˚over 4 nights.  Look to the SW after sunset on these nights.  Mars will be of a reddish hue and Saturn will be brighter and more of a cream color.

New Moon – 25th (darkest skies)

31stClose Encounter – Moon, Mars, Saturn – Again, look for Mars and Saturn in the SW after sunset, only this time the Moon will make a nice third point to a triangle. 

CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

Just after Sunset (around 8:30pm) – Hercules.  Hercules has an Extra Challenge! Look for M13, the Hercules Cluster in between two of Hercules’ “keystone” stars.  It known as the best globular cluster in the northern skies.  It will be a fuzzy spot in binoculars and will be even cooler through a telescope

Extra Challenge! Use binoculars (or even a telescope) and a star chart to scan through the southern constellation of Sagittarius.  There are at least 7 easily visible clusters and nebulas up and to the right of the “teapot” of Sagittarius.

Midnight – Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila (a little to the south) – These are the Summer constellations, and since they are visible right above us around midnight (and to the east after sunset), it’s now summer!  More details below in the “General Constellation Finding Tips” 

Early Morning – Pegasus, Andromeda Extra Challenge!  Using your naked eye (dark-adapted and in a dark area) or binoculars under normal conditions and a star chart, try finding our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy.  It’ll be a faint, but bigger, fuzzy in the constellation Andromeda

Summer Constellations: Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, Delphinus

Look to the east after sunset or straight up around midnight and you’ll be able to see Lyra (the Harp), Cygnus (the Swan), Aquila (the Eagle), (and Delphinus the Dolphin.)  These three constellations have the three brightest stars of the summer constellations (Vega, Deneb, Altair – respectively.)  Those bright stars create the summer triangle.  Off to the east of this is the small but beautiful constellation of Delphinus. 

Spring Constellations Bootes, Virgo, Leo, Corona Borealis, Hercules. 

First find the Big Dipper in the North (a North Circumpolar Asterism that never sets) and look at the handle.  Starting at the star closest to the “cup” part, follow the rest of the stars in the handle and follow the arc to Arcturus.  Arcturus is the brightest star in Bootes the Shepherd.  Some say he looks more like a kite, others say more like an ice cream cone. 

Then, following the same “arc”, speed on to Spica.  Spica is the brightest star in Virgo.  Virgo’s a dimmer constellation, so you’ll be rewarded when you find her. 

To the left of Bootes is Corona Borealis.  This is a small collection of stars that make a crown, cup, or U shape in the sky. 

To the left of Corona Borealis is the great constellation of Hercules.  Hercules is the Hero of the sky and has a central “keystone” asterism, in which lies M13, the Hercules Cluster. 

Lastly, Leo is a constellation consisting of a backward question mark (or sickle) and a right triangle to the left.  Use the two Big Dipper “cup” stars that are in the middle of the Big Dipper and follow the line they make to the bright star Regulus, the brightest star in Leo.

Use a sky map from to help you out.