August 2017

Welcome to Observing With Webb, where the armchair astronomer figures out what they’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what they should check out next.  Don’t forget to check out my Podbean page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter feed, or get my podcast feed on Stitcher.

August brings us the most anticipated astronomical event of the past few years, the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse across America.  But if you’re looking for eclipse info here, wait.  I’ll be doing a special email/podcast/video about the eclipse, otherwise this would be VEEERRRYYYY long.  Aside from the Moon blocking the Sun for about 2.5 minutes, depending on where you live, August brings us our last looks at Jupiter, plenty of Saturn time, and a morning Venus, as well as the annual Perseid Meteor shower.


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

Planets you can see around Sunset – Jupiter (W), Saturn (S)

Planets you can see throughout the night – Saturn (SàSW)

Planets you can see in the Morning – Venus (E)


Mercury – Too close to the Sun to be seen easily at sunset.

Venus – Rises around 4am.  Bright and visible about 20˚ high in East before sunrise all month.

Mars – Not visible in August.  Too close to the Sun from our perspective.  Maybe next month.

Saturn – Look S after sunset and find the bright light above and between Scorpius and Sagittarius. It will move toward the SW, setting around 2am in early August and midnight in late August.

Jupiter – After sunset, look W about 10˚ up the sky and find the brightest point of light in that area, but get out there quick, since it will set by 11pm in early August and 9pm (just after sunset) in late August. This is your last chance to get a good look at the king of the planets for a couple months.



2ndClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Find the Gibbous Moon and you’ll see Saturn just 4˚ below it and to the left.  They will move West throughout the night and set just before 2am.

Full Moon – 7th (Visible all night) – Partial eclipse of the Moon only if you live in the Eastern Hemisphere

12th – 13th Perseid Meteor Shower – This is not a great year for the Perseids, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to go see them.  The waning gibbous Moon will be rising at about the same time as the radiant for the Perseids (11:30pm), making it harder to see the fainter meteors, but they’ll still happen.  It looks like that in dark skies there will be about 60 meteors per hour. 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 NE, 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 year is to start watching about an hour after sunset until you fall asleep, as the Moon will drown out more meteors once there would be more meteors (after midnight)  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

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 (S&T and IMO)

Or find out if your local astronomy club or museum is holding a viewing party.


Last Quarter Moon – 14th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

18th - 19thClose Encounter – Moon, Venus – Get up after 4:00am but before sunrise (6:19am) and find a very thin crescent Moon in the East with Venus. On the 18th, Venus will be about 10˚ below and to the left of the Moon, while on the 19th, the Moon will be 4˚ directly below Venus.


TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE!!!!!!!!         and a New Moon – 21st (darkest skies)

       I’ll be putting out a whole different email, podcast, video about this…stay tuned. Or Google it. Seriously. Lots of stuff out there.


25thClose Encounter – Moon, Jupiter – Look SW after sunset to see Jupiter 5˚ down and to the right of the Moon.  Get out before 9:30pm that night when they set. Bright Spica is below the Moon as well, making a very nice triangle in the dusk sky.

First Quarter Moon – 29th (Visible until midnight)

29th – 30thClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Look S after sunset to find the first quarter Moon, with Saturn 7˚to the left on the 29th and 5˚ to right on the 30th.


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.

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