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Monday, August 1, 2016

Look At The Sky: August

The Planets for August:
Mercury - Mercury reaches its greatest Eastern Elongation this month, August 16; on August 17 you can spot Mercury easily just a bit closer to the western horizon that brilliant JUPITER which resides just east of Mercury.  This is a very favorable time to spot this elusive planet in relatively dark skies in late dusk twilight  - in LEO

Venus - our brightest planet will not be easy to spot at any time in August, hovering close to the western horizon all month. - in LEO

Mars - Now rapidly increasing its distance from Earth, Mars continues to shrink and be more difficult to view telescopically.   At magnitude -0.4, it is slightly brighter that Saturn, which is just to the left (east) of Mars.  The color differences in the two planets is very easy to discern to the naked eye.  Watch nightly through August as Mars creeps ever-so-closer to Saturn as its relative motion results in a slight nightly east shift.  The Red Planet still has a small disk of about 12 arc seconds and thus is suitable for high resolution imaging - in SCORPIUS

Jupiter - Now sinking closer to the western horizon each evening during twilight, you can cross Jupiter off of your observing lists until Fall when it will reappear in early morning dawn skies - in VIRGO

Saturn - Now setting right about midnight local time, the ringed planet is still going to be an easy target and favorite for star parties and neighborhood outings.  Note that Saturn continues to be only slightly east of brilliant RED Mars, both in the constellation of Scorpius and near the somewhat fainter star Antares.  Note Saturn's yellow color, and compare with that distinct red of Mars - in SCORPIUS

Uranus - distant planet Uranus rises about 11 p.m. local time and is south of overhead by dawn's fist light.  It shines at magnitude 5.9, bright enough to spot in good binoculars if one knows where to look; use a good planetarium sky program or GO TO telescope to locate this distant world; by sunrise it is high in dark skies and will show a faint, blue disk in large telescopes - in PISCES

Neptune - look for faint Neptune in large telescopes at midmonth south of overhead about 2 a.m. local time.(mag. 7.6); it will be quite close to this 73 Lamba Aquarii (mag. 3.7) all month, thereby making it a bit easier to spot this distant world. - in AQUARIUS

Pluto - at magnitude 14.1, our most distant planet ( is a planet) is very low in southern skies, southwest of overhead about 2:30 a.m. local time; only 12 inch and larger telescopes can spot this world visually.  On the 15th, Pluto will be very close to the nearly full moon, but of course considerably fainter - in SAGITTARIUS

METEOR SHOWERS for August  2016:

Observe when the moon does not interfere and attempt to observe AFTER midnight for most meteors to be seen!  For August there is, of course, the famous PERSEID METEOR SHOWER, some of which provide for wonderful summer sky shows, provided that the light of the moon does not interfere.  However, as with a months and times during the year, observers should always be aware that new sporadic meteor showers can occur at anytime from seemingly unknown sources and radiants.  Unfortunately for June 2016, the full moon occurs at midmonth, which means that pretty much at least some of these showers are going to be less than impressive in terms of faint meteors.

For a full description of how to observe meteors, how to contribute and what to look for, see the ASO GUIDE at:

August 12 -
This year's PERSEID meteor shower; what to expect!
Unfortunately this year's Perseid Meteor shower will find a large waxing gibbous moon in the sky pretty much all night long (the moon is full on August 17)
The radiant for the Perseids is in the very high northeastern sky and rises well into the night and pretty much opposite the light of the gibbous moon, so some observing might be rewarding; the moon will set about 2 a.m. providing darker skies and fainter meteors to be seen.  Nonetheless, there are dozens of huge brilliant and spectacular fireballs that are typically seen from the Perseids, so these can be seen in spite of any lights in the sky.

And YES....there are other meteor showers in August as well:

July 31 - CAPRICORNID METEORS - Actually a two day peak, July 31 and August 1, this is a reliable meteor shower and with this month's NEW MOON falling only days away, this is a very favorable year to experience any meteors from this shower.  Remnants from Comet Honda-Mrkos-Padjusakova, this is an early evening meteor shower; you should prepare to begin observing about the time the sky is completely dark, at the end of twilight, some 2 hours after sunset.   There CAN be as many as 35 meteors per hour from this erratic meteor shower and you should plan to watch until well after midnight.

August 6 - Southern Aquarid Meteors - the thin crescent moon will set shortly after dark, so this also is a very good meteor shower for this month.  Emanating from near the bright star Altair (see article, above!), this is a two-part meteor shower, with this being the first, and the "Northern Aquarid Meteors" being later in the month (August 20-22).  This is a sparse meteor shower but has been known to show off a bit during some years.  Normally expect to see a scant 7-8 meteors per hour during a dark and moonless night from this shower.  The radiant will be favorably placed south of overhead about 11 p.m. local time.  Observations of BOTH the northern and southern phases of this meteor shower are badly needed

August 20 - Kappa Cygnid Meteors - unfortunately not a good year for this seemingly growing meteor shower; both this shower and the Andromedid meteors occur within days of one-another, and the radiant is best placed nearly overhead for northern observers by about 2 a.m.  Although there can be many Kappa Cygnid meteors flying about, they are many times confused with the Perseids which typically have ended by August 15.  The moon is nearly full for this meteor shower this year and will be in the sky all night, positioned unfortunately very near the radiants of both these showers.

August 31 - Andromedid Meteors - In 1885 observers recorded up to 13,000 Andromedid meteors from this radiant in a one hour period (!).  This quite unpredictable meteor shower originates from debris of Biela's Comet and there are years when the Earth appears to pass directly through dense portions of the old comet cloud and some years where no meteors will be seen.  This year, the moon is less than quarter and will not rise until about 2 a.m., so observations should take place early, concentrating overhead, but with feet toward the north east horizon.

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