What's Up in the Night Sky?

August 2015 - Vol. 19, No. 8

Astra's Star Gate

This Month's Night Sky - NOTE: The next paragraph describes the sky as it appears at 10 pm EST (11 pm EDT) near mid- month. The sky also looks this way at 11 pm EST (midnight EDT) during the beginning of the month and at 9 pm EST (10 pm EDT) by month's end.

Bright blue-white Vega (Lyra) shines high overhead as it "leads" the Summer Triangle across the night sky. The "Triangle" is the summer’s most prominent asterism and is made up of three stars: Vega, the brightest, Denab (Cygnus) and Altair (Aquila). Scorpius and the bright star Antares occupy the southern sky. . Look for another famous asterism, “the teapot” (Sagittarius). The stars of constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius, embedded in the "Milky Way" (part of one of the spiral "arms" of our galaxy), are at their best this month.

MERCURY will be in the evening sky for the first part of the month, close to the giant planet Jupiter reaching conjunction on the 7th. The fleetfooted planet is best observed from the southern hemisphere this month. VENUS is in inferior conjunction on the 15th and won't be seen until late in the month in the morning sky. MARS may be seen in the morning sky late in the month. SATURN is in the constellation of Libra and sets after midnight. URANUS rises before midnight this month.

Review how to determine Angular Measurement.

Calendar of Events

NOTE: For those observers not in the ET zone, convert the calendar times to your zone's time by subtracting one hour for CT, two for MT and three for PT. Don't forget to adjust for Daylight Savings Time when necessary by subtracting one hour from your planisphere's time. Dawn and dusk times must also be corrected. See your local newspaper, TV news, or cable TV's Weather Channel for sunrise and sunset times. Unfortunately some of these events may occur during daylight hours in your area.

01 Moon at perigee.
05 Mercury 8 deg N. of Venus. Uranus 1 deg N. of Moon, occultation from Antarctica, S. South America, Falklands.
07 Mercury will be.6 deg N. of Jupiter and 1deg N. of Regulus 11 hours later.
09 Aldebaran 0.7 deg S. of the Moon occultation for Middle East, Eastern Europe, northwest Asia, Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, and northwestern Canada.
10 Jupiter 4 deg N. of Regulus.
13 The Perseid meteor shower peak should be fantastic this year as the peak falls near new moon. Meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus. Although Perseus will be low at nightfall, it will be high after midnight. Best viewing will occur between then and dawn when the shower's radiant is highest. If observed from a dark site you can expect to see between 60 to 100 events/hour!

The Perseid meteors are the result of dust ejected as Comet 109/Swift-Tuttle has crossed Earth's orbit over many thousands of years. Our atmosphere then rams the particles at about 37 miles/second causing the streaks of light we enjoy every August.
15 Venus at inferior conjunction.
16 Mercury .2 deg N of Moon.
18 Moon at apogee.
20 Mars .5 deg S. of the Beehive cluster, M44 in Cancer.
22 Saturn 3 deg S. of Moon.
26 Jupiter in conjunction with Sun.
30 Moon at perigee, large tides may be expected.

Lunar Almanac for August 2015

Phases of the Moon Phase and Date(s) Best viewed before local midnight
new moon New
Deep Space Objects
first quarter moon 1st. Qtr
Planets & Moon
full moon Full
last quarter moon Last Qtr
Deep Space & Planets

Topic of the month: The Summer Triangle, Aquila

The Summer Triangle is an asterism, a group of stars that are not a constellation, but have earned a popular nickname. It is formed of three bright stars that dominant the summer sky, Vega, Deneb, and Altair. Each of these stars is the brightest member of its constellation, thy are Lyra, Cygnus, and Aquila respectively. This year, What's Up in Night Sky will pay tribute to the three constellations that are part of the Summer Triangle. This month features Aquila, home of the well known bright star, Altair.
Altair is the easternmost star of the Summer Triangle asterism, from a northern latitude it is the last star to rise and the earliest to set. Altair is a first magnitude star, flanked on either side by stars beta (Alshain) and gamma (Tarazed) Aquilae. At 3.7 mag, Alshain is actually fainter than Tarazed at 2.7 mag. The distance between these three stars is about 5 degrees, a measurement that has been used as a "cosmic yardstick" by amateur observers. Altair is one of the closest stars to our own Sun, a mere 16-light years away. Another interesting star in the constellation is Eta Aquilae, a variable star of the Cepheid type. It fluctuates from 3.5 mag to 4.4 mag every 7 days, and the fluctuations are very easy to detect, especially by comparing its brightness to the nearby Alshain, Beta Aquilae. Another star to note is R Aquilae, a Mira-type variable, that varies by 6 levels of magnitude from 5.5 to 12. Its period is approximately 270 days, shorter than the 300 days period that it had when its variable nature was first identified in 1856.

Aquila is also home to many deep sky objects, including several planetary nebulae (NGC 6741, NGC 6751, NGC 6781, and NGC 6803 to name the brightest.) A good amateur telescope will be needed to resolve details on any of these. Aquila is also located near the Great Rift of the Milky Way and includes some prominent dark nebulae including B133 and B 143. A good open star cluster, NGC 6709, contains about 40 stars. The constellation even contains an 11-mag Globular star cluster, NGC 6760, and a distant galaxy, NGC 6814, that shines at 12.2. It is worth mentioning that the star Lambda Aquilae is very near the famous Wild duck cluster, a fabulous open cluster in the Scutum star cloud. Also designated M-11, this cluster is best seen in binoculars, but can be seen with the naked eye from a very dark site. The cluster is composed of thousands of stars, and is actually located in the nearby constellation of Scutum.

--See You Under the Stars!
Astra for Astra's Almanac

The star chart above was generated by Stellarium, a free open source planetarium program. This image was created by Dawn Jenkins, using Stellarium and a graphic editing program to format the image for this web page. Stellarium offers much to amateur astronomers and is being used in planetariums. Simple charts like the one above can be used on the internet for non-profit, illustration purposes. Proper credit is due of course! Thank you to the makers of this fine program from Astra's Star Gate.

This installment of "Whats Up?" is ©2015 by Dawn Jenkins for Astra's Stargate. View Ron Leeseburg's Farewell Issue for information on where to find information such as is presented in this almanac.