EXTRA SPECIAL AUGUST STARWATCHING!!!
Without a doubt, the usual highlight for stargazing in August is the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. Unfortunately this year the moon will be just past the full phase and will really wash out the sky through most of the peak of the shower during the early morning hours of August 12th and 13th. That’s a real bummer, because the Perseids are one of the best meteor showers of the year. Normally in a dark moonless sky you would see more than 50 meteors or “shooting stars” an hour in the early morning hours after midnight, especially in the countryside. Next year, however, the skies will be dark again for the Perseids.
We'll be more than compensated for the whitewashed Persieds, though, because on Monday, August 21st we'll see our first textbook total solar eclipse in the United States since 1979 inside a 60 to 70 mile-wide corridor from Oregon to South Carolina. If there's any way you can travel to see it, do it! Even if you're not all that into astronomy this is a must see! There won't be another one in the USA until 2024. In the Twin Cities Metro area we'll have a deep partial eclipse with 83 percent of the sun covered by the moon at 1:06pm. Again, do not stare at the sun during a partial eclipse or at any other time. You could damage your eyes permanently. Protect your eyes with special eclipse glasses. There are many places to buy them online.
Early evening stargazing this month is still dominated by the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter starts the evening in the lower western sky. Don’t wait too long to check out Jupiter and its moons through your telescope because it will set around 11pm. You can still spot Saturn in the very low south-southwest heavens. Even with a small telescope you should see its wonderful ring system. On Wednesday the waxing gibbous football shaped moon will be just to the upper right of Saturn.
The summer constellations are in full bloom now. In the low southern sky in the vicinity of Saturn you'll see Scorpius the Scorpion, which actually resembles a Scorpion. Next door, just to the left of Scorpius, will be Sagittarius the Archer that actually looks more like a teapot.
Over in the northwestern sky is the Big Dipper hanging by its handle, and the much fainter Little Dipper with Polaris, the North Star, at the end of the handle. In the northeast is a giant “W”, otherwise known as the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen. That W outlines a throne that Queen Cassiopeia is eternally tied to as punishment for offending Hera, the Queen of the gods of Mount Olympus.
Nearly overhead is the Summer Triangle, made up of three bright stars; Vega, Altair, and Deneb. All three of these stars are the brightest in their respective constellations Lyra the Harp, Cygnus the Swan, and Aquila the Evil Eagle. The Summer Triangle is a great tool to help you find these constellations and many other surrounding celestial portraits.
The highest and brightest star is Vega, the bright star in a small faint constellation called Lyra the Harp. The second brightest star on the lower right of the triangle is Altair, the brightest in Aquila the Eagle. Altair is on the corner of a diamond that outlines the wingspan of the great bird. The third brightest star, found at the left corner of the summer triangle, is Deneb, at least 1500 but possibly as far as 3000 light-years from our Early home. It’s also the brightest star in the tail of Cygnus the Swan. Cygnus is also known as the “Northern Cross” because that’s what it really looks like. Deneb is at the head of the Northern Cross, presently laying on its side as it rises in the east.
Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and is author of the book, “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations” published by Adventure Publications. Available at bookstores and online at www.adventurepublications.net.
If you have any astronomical questions or want me to write about something you’re seeing in the night sky drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org