I love this season because we still have a lot of summers and the nights are getting a bit longer. There is almost another hour of night and the sky is dark enough for the star hunt at 10 o'clock. The late summer sky is filled with heavenly gemstones and this August will also bring us three big planets!
The Mars Show is without a doubt the highlight of the month, despite the historic global dust storm. Normally, Mars is the only planet in our solar system to see the surface of a telescope, but that does not happen because experts predict that this dust storm will last for perhaps the next few months. Nonetheless, Mars and the Earth have been approaching each other since 2003. In fact, Mars will be close to it next Tuesday with nearly 36.8 million miles. Mars will be by far the brightest star in the southern half of the sky, with an easily recognizable red-orange glow, even though it is more salmon-colored with the dust storm. It rises in the southeast early in the evening and sets off at dawn in the southwest.
As Mars makes headlines in August, Jupiter and Saturn are also fantastic telescope targets, with Jupiter's moons and the Saturn ring system. At nightfall, Jupiter in the south-southwestern sky seems bright and Saturn is in the lower south-southeast at the very bottom left. Jupiter is almost as bright as Mars. At dusk, the very bright planet Venus appears in the deepest western sky, but shortly afterwards it sets.
In addition to the planet show, we have another meteor shower this month. The Perseiden meteor shower, one of the best meteor showers of the year, reaches its peak on the 1
The low southern sky this month is also home to classic constellations alongside Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. There Scorpius is the scorpion with the bright, brick-red star Antares in the heart of the scorpion. It is one of the few constellations that looks like it should be. In the low southeastern sky is Sagittarius, who is said to be a half man / half horse shooting an arrow. Forget it; most people I know call it the nickname "The Teapot."
The brightest star is now Arcturus, parked in the high western sky. Arcturus is also the brightest star in the constellation Bootes the Hunting Farmer. Bootes looks more like a giant dragon, with the orange-red star Arcturus on the tail of the kite. The second brightest star in the evening sky is Vega, the bright star in a small, weak constellation called Lyra the Lyre or Harp. Vega is a bright bluish-white star, high above the eastern sky, almost overhead. Vega and the small weak parallelogram in the lower east of Vega are to outline a sky harp in the sky. If you are quiet enough, you can even hear the music.
If you continue looking east, you'll notice two other bright stars that make a triangle with Vega. This is known as the "summer triangle". The star on the bottom left of Vega is Deneb, the brightest star in Cygnus the Swan, also known as the "Northern Cross", for obvious reasons. The star to the right of Vega is Altair, the brightest star in the constellation Aquila the Eagle.
In the northern sky we have the famous dipper. The Big Dipper, which is actually the back end and the tail of the Big Bear Ursa Major, casually hangs on its grip, or tail, if you like, in the high northwestern sky. The little car, which resembles the Little Bear, stands on its grip and is much denser than the Big Dipper. Unfortunately, it is almost invisible in the metro area, except for the outer ring of the suburbs. The only really bright star in the Little Carriage is Polaris, also known as the North Star, at the end of the handle.
Polaris may not be the brightest star in the sky, but it is the "linchpin" because every single star and planet, including the sun and moon, seem to spin around it every 24 hours. This is because Polaris shines directly over the Earth's North Pole, and as our world revolves, all the stars seem to whirl around the North Star.
To use this card, cut it out and attach it to a stiff pad. Hold it over your head and align the directions on the map with the directions on the horizon from which you are watching. East and West on this map are not backward. This is not a misprint. I guarantee that if you hold this card over your head, East and West will be in their right positions. Also use a small flashlight and attach a red piece of fabric or red building paper over the lens of the flashlight. You will not lose your night vision if you look at this card with red light.
Mike Lynch is amateur astronomer and professional broadcasting 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. Send questions to [email protected]
The Rochester Astronomy Club welcomes new members and hosts public star parties. Her website is rochesterskies.org.