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Sky Report - August 2012

A Blue Moon at end of August (2nd full moon), the Perseid Shower and Mars passes Saturn.

Seen all through August: August is the month when the summer evening stars and groups are at their finest. The best summer star group is the Summer Triangle, high in the South. Nearly overhead is sparkling Vega, the brightest Triangle star. To the left of Vega is Deneb, the head star of the Northern Cross. The bottom of the Triangle is marked by Altair, the nearest of the Triangle stars, being only 16 light years away. When the Summer Triangle is highest, its long sides point to the Southern horizon. Low in the South are the groups, the Scorpion and Sagittarius. The brighter stars of the Scorpion resemble a letter 'J' while Sagittarius's brighter stars form an old fashioned 'tea kettle'. The Big Dipper is easy to spot in the North Northwest with its scoop lower and bent handle above. The two bottom stars of the scoop point rightward to the North Star. What distinguishes the North Star from the other night star is that all the other sky bodies seem to go around it through the night. (During the day, our sun also goes around the North Star.) The constancy of the North Star's position is due to our North Pole very nearly pointing at the North Star. The Big Dipper's handle can be extended to the bright golden star Arcturus, sparkling in the West. Low in the East are the groups of early fall, including the Great Square, Andromeda and Perseus. All through August, the planets Mars and Saturn appear in the southwestern evening sky.

Early August Sights - August opens with a full moon shining close to the tail of Capricornus, the Sea Goat. Following the full moon, its motion swings through Aquarius and Pisces. After August 7th, the moon will be rising after midnight. On the morning of August 9th, the moon appears half full in the southern dawn. In the first half of August, the planet Mercury steadily improves in visibility in the eastern dawn.

Mid August Sights - Mercury is then rising about 90 minutes ahead of the sun. Your best view of this innermost planet will be about 5:30 a.m., facing a bit to the North of East. Mercury will then in the faint star group Cancer. August 12 in the a.m. hours is the best time to see the Perseid meteor shower. The moon will then be a crescent in the southeastern dawn. A meteor shower occurs when the Earth crosses the orbit of a comet, littered with comet grit. This comet grit is rather crumbly and burns up about 50 miles altitude as it collides with the upper atmosphere molecules. This shower is called the Perseids (children of Perseus), as the meteors can be traced back to a region of the sky near the head of Perseus, the hero. Possibly 60 meteors an hour may be seen. On the evening of August 14th, the planets Saturn and Mars appear about 3 degrees apart. The closer Mars is moving eastward more rapidly and will appear farther to the left of Saturn each week. In the morning hours of August 15th, the planet Venus reaches its greatest angle to the West of the sun. On August 17th, the moon swings from the morning side of the sun to the evening side.

Late August Sights - A very slender moon appears low in the West at dusk on August 20th. On the 21st, the crescent moon appears just under the bright star Spica. Above Spica is the the planet Saturn. Further to the right is the planet Mars. On the evening of August 24th, the evening moon appears half full (like a tilted letter 'D') near the claws of the Scorpion in the southwestern dusk. On Friday, August 31st, we have a second full moon of the month. This is termed a 'blue moon'. A second full moon in a month occurs about every 3 years.

By Dr. Bob Doyle

To contact Dr. Doyle, his mailing address is Planetarium, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD 21532 or by email at rdoyle@frostburg.edu.









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