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:
Venus remains the superstar all through the month of August. Our sister planet shines brightly at magnitude -3.9 low in the west 30 minutes after sunset. Look for the waxing Moon on August 9-11 just to the right of Venus.
Mars might be difficult to see as it will be shining feebly, low in the west.
Jupiter and Saturn once again return to the night sky around the middle of the month. Look to the SE 45 minutes after sunset. Jupiter, the brightest of the two, is located below and to the left of Saturn.
Moon:
New on the 8th
Full on the 22nd
Meteor Shower: The Perseid’s meteor shower will make it’s annual appearance and peaks on the night of August 12th ; look to the northeast. 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 makeup 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 101 years old this month. 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)

 

 

Highlights for the July 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:

Venus remains the superstar all through the month of July, shining brightly at magnitude -3.9 low in the west 45 minutes after sunset. A highlight occurs on the nights of the 11th thru the 13th when Mars and Venus lock in their slow dance as a very new moon will approach the two planets low in the western sky.

Mars was celebrated a year ago when it was shining brightly in the evening sky; now Mars glows relatively feebly at magnitude +1.8 in the western sky.

Dawn:

          Jupiter & Saturn shine brightly in the early morning sky. Look to the SW.

Moon:

          New on 7/10

Full on 7/24

Stars and Constellations:

Our focus for July is the constellation Scorpius. The form that Scorpius makes in the sky actually looks like the deadly scorpion. Look for it in the south fairly close to the horizon. You can’t miss the star Antares, sometimes called the “rival of Mars” because of its bloody red color. It is the brightest star in the grouping and is a red “super giant” star, just like Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion which we talked about last winter. Antares represents the head of the scorpion with its tail extending down towards the horizon. Since very early times this constellation has represented death, darkness and evil.

The constellation Sagittarius is to the left of Scorpius. Most people today refer to it as the “teapot”. In the diagram you can see the spout, handle and lid.

High overhead looks for the constellation Hercules. Just focus however on the keystone of four stars which form a quadrilateral and forget the rest. The ancient Greeks and before them the Persians saw this grouping of stars as a kneeling man. However, this was before we had outdoor lighting.

 

  • Refer to the diagram from Chet Raymo’s book, 365 Starry Nights

 

 

Astronomy News:

Asteroids are the new gold mines. Fly to an asteroid, dig up its minerals and become a billionaire. What makes asteroids so interesting for mining is that their chemical composition is often similar to what you find in the core of our planet. Metals from the platinum group are very expensive because they are rare and in high demand. If one can mine them from an asteroid you could become very, very rich. The asteroid Psyche, for example, is estimated to contain metals worth 10 quintillion US dollars – that is a lot money.

However, it will be a long time before mining on an asteroid becomes a reality. Many problems have to be solved such as what asteroid is a good target, how do you dig up the metal and billions of up-front dollars will be required. However, someday this will happen.

Comment / Factoid of the Month:

          Before the advent of electric light, our ancestors experienced a night sky brimming with stars. Today however the night sky is rapidly becoming unknown to the newest generations. In fact, millions of children across the globe will never see the Milky Way from their own homes. The glow of uncontrolled outdoor lighting has hidden the stars. There is no clear scientific evidence that increased outdoor lighting deters crime. It may make us feel safer but it does not make us safer. The truth is bad outdoor lighting can decrease safety by making victims and property easier to see.        

 

Astronomy Websites to explore:

  • heavens-above.com (satellites that are passing overhead
  • com (The evening sky map for the month)
  • nasa.gov (Sign up for alerts for the International Space Station passing overhead.

 

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.

After a long winter, step outdoors tonight and discover the treasures of the night sky.
The Planets: Evenings on the “Ecliptic” The Sun and the planets all follow an imaginary path
in the sky called the ecliptic.
Dusk and into the night:
Mercury & Venus: Our innermost planet Mercury takes center stage this month. Mercury is
usually a difficult planet to spot because when it is visible it is low on the horizon and is lost in
the glare of the setting Sun. However, May will be its best showing for 2021 and as a bonus it
will meet up with Venus on the 28th

. At the beginning of the month look WNW at dusk to spot

Mercury and with binoculars you might spot the Pleiades star cluster to its right.
By the middle of the month Mercury is higher in the west with Venus just above. At the end of
the month Mercury and Venus will be so close together in the WNW yo won’t be able to tell
them apart – this is known as a conjunction.
Mars: Look for our red planet high in the west at dusk.
Dawn:
Jupiter & Saturn can be spotted can be spotted high in the SSW one hour before sunrise.
Moon:
New on the 11th
Full on the 26th
Stars and Constellations:
The area around WVE is starting to respond to the direct rays of our yellow star as the
Earth leans more into the Sun. The flowers are starting to poke there way through the soil and
we gaze in wonder as the Sun is bringing our planet back to life after a cold winter and the stars
of winter are slowly sinking in the west.
This month we are featuring the the “Big Dipper”. (see attached diagram below from
Chet Raymo’s book, 365 Starry Nights). Look north and you cannot miss it; however, you might
have to explain to the children what a dipper is. People in other parts of the world sometimes
refer to it as a plow. The Big Dipper is actually an asterism and not a constellation; it is actually
part of the constellation “The Great Bear”. An asterism is defined as a group of stars that are not
an official constellation. It is however, probably one of the most famous and familiar of all the
asterisms / constellations. No other group of stars, except possible for Orion, is easier to
recognize. If you follow the handle of the dipper it will point to the bright star “Arcturus” in the
east, which is also known as the “Spring Star”. As your vision travels a little further you will see
another bright star “Spica” in the south. Remember, “Follow the arc (handle) to Arcturus and
you will spy Spica”.
The two stars that make up the front side of the bowl or cup of the Big Dipper are called
the pointer stars (see diagram). If you follow them up they will guide you to Polaris, the North
Star (see diagram).

Astronomy News:
Thirty years ago the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into space on the back of
the space shuttle Discovery. Since then it has created a niche for itself in the hearts and minds

of all lovers of science. The HST has made many discoveries, among them the true age of the
universe and has taken many spectacular pictures. I have the picture of the Eagle Nebula’s
‘Pillars of Creation’ hanging on my wall as I write this article.
In 2021 the James Webb Telescope, the successor to the HST, will be launched into
space. The JWST will be 100X more powerful than the HST and is optimized for the infrared
wavelengths. This will allow it to see through the dust and gases of space to reveal the first
galaxies formed. It will also take beautiful pictures.
Comment / Factoid of the Month:
The scale used to describe brightness is called “apparent magnitude”. It was invented
by Hipparchus over 2000 years ago and has stood the test of time. The brightest stars he
referred to as first magnitude and the dimmer ones he called sixth magnitude. The scale has
been tweaked in recent times. Arcturus has a rating of 0 and Sirius a -1. The more minus the
number means the brighter the object is.

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 passing
overhead)

August Star Map