August 2018

Welcome to Observing With Webb, where a high school astronomy teacher tells you what you’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what you should check out later this month…at night.  Don’t forget to check out my Podbean page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter feed, or get my podcast feed on Stitcher, or iTunes.

August, even with very short nights, will be a great month for watching the four brightest naked-eye planets at sunset, the usual close encounters, and the annual Perseid Meteor Shower.

 

Naked-eye PLANETS...

  • Around Sunset – Venus (W), Jupiter (SW), Saturn (S), Mars (SE)
  • Throughout the night – Saturn (SWàSW), Mars (SEàSW)
  • Morning – Mars (SW, beg of month), Mercury (E, last week)

Mercury

  • Get your binoculars out the last week of August around 5:30am – 6am to look east in search of Mercury.

Venus

  • Still shining bright, but on its way out, getting lower each day. Look West  and find the brightest source of light in that direction, less than two fist-widths above the horizon. If you have a telescope, you can notice Venus is in a half phase this month.

Mars

  • Again, find Mars sometime in the first week or two in August in your telescope to find it bigger than normal during its opposition. Mars rises in the SE around sunset in the beginning of the month, and is already up in the SE at the end of the month. Look South-ish around 1am for the red point of light.

Jupiter

  • Up in the SW around sunset, hanging out less than 1˚ from Zubenelgenubi in Libra, setting right around 11pm in the WSW.

Saturn

  • Already up around sunset. Look about 25˚ above the S horizon in evening or low in the SW before 2am. Rings are close to maximum tilt.

 

EVENTS...

Last Quarter Moon – 4th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

New Moon – 11th (darkest skies) – Partial Solar Eclipse (but only for Greenland, northern Europe, northeast Asia)

12th – 13th Perseid Meteor Shower – This definitely a great year for the Perseids, given the just-past-new Moon phase.  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 get out there whenever it’s dark, but your best bet is after midnight and before dawn.  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.

14th Close EncounterMoon, Venus – If you have a clear view of the horizon in the West, you can catch a thin crescent Moon only 5˚ from Venus on the 14th. Last month, this encounter was particularly breathtaking, as they were closer together, and many people were sharing their sighting on social media.

17th Close EncounterMoon, Jupiter – Find the Moon around sunset and you’ll also find Jupiter about 3.5˚ below, with dimmer Zubenelgenubi (Libra’s brightest star), just 0.5˚ below Jupiter.

First Quarter Moon – 18th (Visible until midnight)

21st Close EncounterMoon, Saturn – Find the Moon after sunset and you’ll also find Saturn only 3˚ to the right. A great chance to see two really bright objects right near each other, with the teapot of Sagittarius right below.

23rd Close EncounterMoon, Mars – Find the Moon after sunset and you’ll also find Mars about 6˚ below.

Full Moon – 26th (Visible all night)

 

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 southeast 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 www.skymaps.com to help you out

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