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Our Friendly Skies - August 2013

August 03, 2013|By CHRIS KOPCO/William Brish Planetarium and ANDY SMETZER/TriState Astronomers
  • All-Sky Chart, August 2013.
TriState Astronomers

THE AUGUST SKY

A few very bright stars will dot the summer sky this month and a couple of planets too.  First though, we begin our tour of the heavens with a star pattern many are already familiar with, the Big Dipper. Look to the northwest and you’ll see four stars forming the bowl and three stars forming the handle of the Big Dipper.  Follow the arc of the handle to the left (southwest) and “Arc to Arcturus,”a bright yellow star in the constellation Bootes in the western sky.  From here, just continue the arc further to the left (southwest) and down toward the horizon to “Speed on to Spica,” a bright blue star in the constellation Virgo.  Cream-colored Saturn trails Spica, higher in the sky to the east.

Now face east, where the sun rises, and look straight up.  Here, almost directly overhead, you’ll see a blue-white star.  This is Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra the Harp.  From here, look down and to the right (southeast) to spot a bright star between two dimmer stars.  This bright star is Altair which is the brightest star in Aquila the Eagle.  Finally, look to the left (north) of Altair to spot another bright star, Deneb, which marks the tail of a Swan named Cygnus.  These three stars can also be connected to make the asterism, the Summer Triangle.

Now go back to Altair and look just below it and to the left (northeast) and you’ll see a small pattern that looks very similar to the picture on the old Miami Dolphins’ football helmets.  This constellation is Delphinus the Dolphin and he’s looking down closer to the eastern horizon at a large square made of four stars.  This is the Great Square of Pegasus the Flying Horse.  Imagine a neck and head made of the stars extending from the right (southern) star of the square, while the legs of the horse extend from the upper (western) square star.  The constellation of Andromeda then extends from the left (northern) star in the square.  Under a dark sky you can see M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, as a fuzzy patch within this constellation.

For a more detailed tour of the night sky check out Skylights, the monthly podcast tour of the night sky, downloadable at www.antpod.com.
 

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THE AUGUST SOLAR SYSTEM

Evening Planets

VENUS shines brightly in the western sky each evening for about an hour and a half after sunset this month.  At magnitude -4.0, the brightest planet as seen from Earth, has often been mistaken for an Unidentified Flying Object by those unaware of its true identity.

SATURN, a cream-colored object will follow blue colored Spica through the sky all month and will shine at magnitude 0.6. 

NEPTUNE will rise in the middle of the night in the constellation Aquarius.  As always, Neptune cannot be spotted with the naked eye.

URANUS rises about an hour and a half later than Neptune in the constellation Pices.  As with Neptune, a telescope or binoculars are necessary to spot this giant planet.

Morning Planets

JUPITER rises above the north eastern horizon around 3:30 a.m. at the beginning of the month in the constellation Gemini and then rises earlier and earlier throughout the month.

MARS also begins the month in Gemini and rises closer to 4 a.m. at the beginning of August. Though Mars and Jupiter begin the month close together, Mars quickly moves against the background stars, and away from Jupiter, into the constellation Cancer by the end of August.

MERCURY is visible in the early morning in the eastern sky at the beginning of August, but quickly fades from the view of the unaided eye close in the middle of the month. 

THE AUGUST SUN AND MOON

On Aug. 1, sunrise was at 6:10 a.m. and sunset at 8:25 p.m., for 14 hours and 15 minutes of daylight. By Aug. 31 sunrise isn’t until 6:38 a.m. with the sun setting earlier in the evening at 7:45 p.m., for 13 hours and 7 minutes of daylight, a 68 minute decrease from the beginning of the month.

New moon is on Aug. 6, first quarter on Aug. 14, the moon is full on Aug. 21, and third quarter is on Aug. 28.  

SPECIAL EVENTS

The Perseids meteor shower will peak this year on the night of Monday, Aug. 12, into the morning hours of Tuesday, Aug. 13. The Perseids often have long trains and can reach peaks of over 50 meteors per hour. There will be a waxing crescent moon that will set early in the evening, so the peak viewing time will be unencumbered by moonlight this year.

The peak time for viewing the Perseids will be when the constellation Perseus rises high in the sky, around midnight. The constellation Perseus is identified as the radiant because it is the location in the sky from which the meteors appear to originate. The meteors will appear to come from the constellation Perseus and will radiate in all directions from that point.

This meteor show, like other meteor showers throughout the year, is due to the debris left behind by a comet.  Earth will move through material left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle as it passed through the inner solar system, and the debris will burn up as it enters the earth’s atmosphere, causing the streaks of light that track across the sky making up the Perseid meteor shower. Find skies that are as dark as possible to see this brilliant show that may produce 1 or more meteors per minute at its peak.  

WILLIAM BRISH PLANETARIUM/TRISTATE ASTRONOMERS

The William Brish Planetarium will be closed for the summer and will re-open in September. For more information, visit www.wbplanetarium.weebly.com.

The next meeting for the TriState Astronomers will be held at the William Brish Planetarium on September 18 at 7:30PM.  All are welcome!  For more information, visit www.tristateastronomers.org.

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