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Sky Report - August 2013

See Milky Way in View in Early & Late August, Perseid Shower and Planets Seen at Dusk & Dawn

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 planet Saturn is in the Southwestern dusk while Venus lies low in the western dusk.

Early August – August opens with a crescent moon in the southeastern dawn. On August 4th, the crescent moon appears is to the right of the planet Mars. On the next morning, the moon is to the right of the planet Mercury, very low in the southeastern dawn. In the late afternoon of August 6th, the moon swings from the morning to the evening side of the sun (New Moon). On August 9th, a very slender crescent moon appears below and to the left of the brilliant planet Venus very low in the 9 p.m. western dusk. On the next evening, the crescent moon has moved to the left of Venus.

Mid August – On August 13th, the moon appears half full (like a tilted "D") in the southwestern evening sky. To the left of the moon on that evening will be the planet Saturn. From August 11th through August 17th are prime evenings to see the moon's craters with binoculars (held steadily) or a small telescope. The brilliant planet Venus in mid August is setting, 90 minutes after sunset. So within a half hour after sunset (about 8:40 p.m.) Venus is easy to spot, low in the East Southeast.

August 12th in the a.m. hours is the best time to see the Perseid meteor shower. The moon will then have set. 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. While observing the meteors, look for the bright planet Jupiter in the Southeast. Below Jupiter and to the left will be the planet Mars.

Late August – The moon is full on the evening of August 20th, appearing between Capricornus and Aquarius. This full moon resembles the September Harvest Moon, with about a half hour delay in rising from night to night. So through August 25th, there will be extra evening moonlight. On August 28th, the moon will appear half full in the southern dawn sky. On August 31st, the crescent moon will appear near the bright planet Jupiter in the southeastern dawn.

Frostburg State's new technology center called the CCIT has most of its outer walls in place. The building will likely be opening in the spring of 2014. It features an auditorium called the Multi-Media Center or MLC, which includes a digital planetarium projector. There will be resumption of our Sunday Public Planetarium programs, featuring a review of the past week's weather, the current night sky sights and a half hour feature. Sunday Tours of the Science Discovery Center will also be available to the interested public.

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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