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Sky Report - October 2008

June 2008 - In June, daily sunlight scarcely changes as the month starts with 14.75 hours and ends with 14.95 hours. Sunset times in June go from 8:36 p.m. (June 1st) to 8:47 p.m. (June 30th). Sunrises stay about 5:50 a.m. all month. So by 9:45 p.m., the first evening stars come out. The brightest points of light are the golden star Arcturus, high in the West and the white-blue star Vega in the East. The two early evening planets are Saturn and Mars in the West. During June, Mars moves from Cancer into Leo, ending the month to the right and near the bright star Regulus, the heart of Leo. On the left side of Regulus is the planet Saturn. Neither planet is very bright but both shine with a steady light, in contrast to the twinkling stars. In the late evening the very bright planet Jupiter shines low in the Southeast. At dusk in June, the Big Dipper is high in the North. As the weeks pass, the Dipper appears a little lower. In the middle of the night, the Big Dipper swings lower towards the Northern horizon.

The pre-dawn sky features the bright white-blue star Vega in the Northwest. Vega is part of the Summer Triangle, whose long side points towards the planet Jupiter in the Southwest. In the eastern sky are the bright golden star Capella and the orange star Aldeberan, marking the eye of the Bull. Low in the South is the bright star Fomalhaut.

As June begins, the moon is a skinny crescent low in the eastern dawn. By June 6th, the moon can again be seen low in the western dusk, appearing near the planet Mars on June 7th. On June 8 th, the moon is near Regulus and Saturn. The moon is full on June 18 th, the full moon On the next evening, the moon appears near the bright planet Jupiter. On June 26 th, the moon appears half full in the morning sky, highest in the South at sunrise. On the last day of June, the moon appears as a slender crescent low in the Eastern dawn, close by the 7 Sisters star cluster.

July 2008 - In July, we lose nearly an hour of daily sunlight; sunrise times through the month creep forward from 5:51 a.m. to 6:11 a.m. and sunsets fall back from 8:47 p.m. to 8:27 a.m. So the brighter evening stars appear about 9:30 p.m. The brightest point of light in the evening sky is the planet Jupiter, shining steadily low in the East Southeast as the sky darkens. In the middle of the night, Jupiter peaks low in the South. Near the top of the evening sky are two very bright stars, golden Arcturus in the West and white-blue Vega in the East. Vega is part of a trio of bright stars called the Summer Triangle. The long sides of the Triangle point towards Jupiter. On moonless, clear nights, the ghostly glow of the Milky Way can be seen in the lower part of the Triangle. July is the best month to see the star group Scorpius, low in the South. This group’s brightest stars form a letter “J”. The lower left end of the “J” marks the Scorpion’s stinger. On the upper right part of the “J” is the pinkish star Antares, marking the head of the Scorpion. To the right of Antares are three stars representing the Scorpion’s claws.

Low in the western dusk are two planets, Saturn and Mars. These two planets are closest on July 10 th, appearing a little over one moon width apart. Saturn is the brighter planet. Mars is now on the far side of its orbit. As weeks go by, Saturn will drop behind Mars and will be lost in the twilight by month’s end. The crescent moon will appear near the two planets on July 6 th. The evening moon appears half full on July 9 th, appears near Jupiter on July 16 th and grows to full on July 17 th. After July 20 th, the moon will have shifted into the morning sky, then best seen at dawn. By the end of July, the moon appears as a slender crescent low in the eastern dawn.

In July’s predawn sky, we view the evening stars of late fall, with the first bright winter stars, golden Capella and orange Aldeberan seen low in the East. Cassiopeia appears as a “M” high in the North. The western sky is dominated by the Summer Triangle with the very bright star Vega sparkling in the Northwest.

August 2008 - In August, the amount of daily sunlight drops by an hour. The month starts out with sunrises at 6:14 a.m., which slide forward to 6:42 a.m. at month’s end. Sunsets drop back from 8:20 p.m. on August 1 st to 7:48 p.m. on the 31 st. So the evening stars first appear in August between 9 and 9:20 p.m.

The brightest point in August’s evening sky is the planet Jupiter, shining low in the South in the star group Sagittarius. The second and third brightest points in the evening sky are the white-blue star Vega, nearly overhead and the golden star Arcturus low in the West. On moonless, clear nights, the ghostly glow of the Milky Way can be seen, starting in the Northeast, running below Vega and down into the South. The planet Jupiter appears on the left edge of the Milky Way. In the Northeast is a zig zag star group called Cassiopeia, representing the throne of an Ethiopian Queen in Greek mythology. Below Cassiopeia is the star group Perseus, representing her son-in-law, who rescued her daughter, the Princess Andromeda from Cetus, the Sea Monster.

The moon reappears as a slender crescent low in the western dusk on August 3 rd, underneath the dull planet Mars. On the evening of August 8 th, the evening moon appears half full, offering the best viewing of its craters and mountains in the evening sky. On August 12 th and 13 th, the moon appears near the planet Jupiter; the moon is to the right of Jupiter on the 12 th and to the left of the 13 th. The moon grows to full on the evening of August 16 th, then appearing in the star group Aquarius. After full, the moon slowly leaves the evening, rising about 40 minutes later each night. By August 23 rd, the morning moon appears half full at dawn. The moon disappears in the eastern dawn a few days before end of month.

August’s predawn sky features winter evening’s brightest stars in the East and Southeast sky. Orion with his three star belt is prominent. His belt points up and right to Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus. The belt point down and left to Sirius, the night’s brightest star. In ancient Egypt, the first sighting of Sirius in the Southeastern dawn was the signal for the onset of the annual Nile flood. To the right of Cassiopeia (a “M” in the northern sky) is the star group Perseus, from which the Perseid meteor shower streams during the night of August 12-13.

September 2008 - In September, daily sunlight hours shrink by over an hour; sunrises advance from 6:43 a.m. to 7:10 a.m. and sunsets drop back from 7:47 p.m. to 6:59 p.m. Fall officially begins on September 22 nd. Three days later, we have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. In early September, there are three planets nearly lining up very low in the Western dusk, the brilliant planet Venus and the the planets Mars and Mercury to the left of Venus. The only time to see this clustering is about 8:10 p.m. from a place with a flat western horizon. Use binoculars to see these planets. On September, a 3 day old crescent moon appears to the left of the three planets, possibly improving your chances of seeing the planets.

September features the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the start of fall, offering the most extra evening moonlight of any full moon of the year. The Harvest Moon falls on September 14 th; the next three evenings have the moon rising by mid evening, providing extra moonlight for romantic strolls or evening joggers. The Big Dipper is low in the North Northwest. If you extend its handle outward, you come to the bright golden star Arcturus, that twinkles furiously as it nears the western horizon. Low in the North Northeast is another conspicuous twinkling star called Capella, the first bright winter evening star to appear. Jupiter continues its reign as the brightest point in the evening sky, shining low in the Southwest.

The best time to see the moon’s craters in the evening sky is around September 7 th, when the moon appears half full. Along the moon’s straight edge, the sun is rising, lighting up the crater rims and mountains. The grey patches best seen at full moon are huge lava plains that were formed in moon’s early history.

The September predawn sky matches the early winter evening skies. The brightest winter evening stars form a huge eight sided oval, within is the bright orange star Betelgeuse of Orion. Low in the eastern dawn is the planet Saturn. The Big Dipper is precariously balanced on its handle low in the North Northeast. The top two stars of the Dipper’s scoop point left to the North Star, a modest star half way up in the North.


By Dr. Bob Doyle









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