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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Look At The Sky: August

Of course the BIG story in August is the total solar eclipse across a portion of the US.  But there are other interesting things going on in the sky besides that!

The Planets for August:
Mercury - Mercury remains hidden by the sun for us, in daylight skies - in LEO

Venus - our brightest planet will not be easy to spot at any time in August, hovering nearly stationary against the eastern morning sky, getting neither higher or lower as the month progresses, but becoming more embedded in twilight toward late month.   - in GEMINI

Mars - Now rapidly increasing its distance from Earth, Mars continues to be hidden in solar glare and will not be viewable for the next couple of months - in CANCER

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.  It is very low in evening twilight western skies and quite close to the bright star SPICA - 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.  This star party favorite will be directly overhead just as evening dusk disappears into darkness.   Note Saturn's yellow color, and the interesting aspect of it not lurking in one of the "Zodiacal Constellations", but far outside the original band of the 12 original Zodiac constellations - in OPHIUCHUS

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 3 a.m. local time.(mag. 7.6); it will be due north (higher) that bright Fomalhaut in southern skies all month, thereby making it a bit easier to spot this distant world. - in AQUARIUS

METEOR SHOWERS for August  2017:

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.  

August 12 - This year's PERSEID meteor shower; what to expect!
Unfortunately this year's Perseid Meteor shower will find a rather large waxing gibbous moon in the sky pretty much all night long (the moon is full on August 7)  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 rise about 11 p.m. providing darker skies and fainter meteors to be seen ONLY in early evening skies.  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-Aug 1 - 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 moon will be full, so this also is a very poor 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 - this is an excellent year with no moon in the sky 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 a bit greater than quarter and will set after midnight so observations should take place early, concentrating overhead, but with feet toward the north east horizon.

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