Predawn hours offer celestial viewing in AugustAugust opens with the spectacle of a waning moon dropping past three planets over three mornings.
By: Deane Morrison, Superior Telegram
August opens with the spectacle of a waning moon dropping past three planets over three mornings.
First up is Jupiter, a beacon above the eastern horizon. Look an hour before sunrise on the 3rd to see an old moon a little to the planet’s upper right.
Next comes Mars; on the 4th, a thinner crescent appears to the Red Planet’s lower right. And on the 5th, look half an hour before sunrise for a slip of a moon to Mercury’s lower right. Mercury is quite low, forming a slightly crooked line with Mars and Jupiter. You’ll need binoculars for this one.
This is a good year for the Perseid meteor shower, with prime viewing in the predawn hours of the 11th through the 13th. Typically bright, Perseids fly at up to 36 miles per second and often leave persistent trails. The meteors will radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus, which will be well up in the northeast.
In the evening sky, Venus keeps blazing away, though it’s rather close to the sunset horizon. A waxing crescent moon visits on the 9th, hanging below the planet to form a celestial semicolon in the sun’s afterglow.
High in the south floats the Summer Triangle of bright stars: brilliant Vega, in Lyra, the lyre, in the northwest corner; Deneb, in Cygnus, the swan, east of Vega; and Altair, in Aquila, the eagle, at the southern vertex. Deneb, from the Arabic for “tail” (of the hen), is also the brightest star in the grouping called the Northern Cross, which gives the swan its shape. As you gaze at Deneb, you’re looking in the direction our solar system is traveling through the disk of the Milky Way galaxy.
August’s full Sturgeon Moon — named for the large fish that is easily caught this time of year — rises gorgeously round on the 20th. In the Twin Cities, moonrise occurs at 7:39 p.m. and fullness at 8:45 p.m.; in more western and northern areas, moonrise comes even closer to the instant of perfect roundness. Some Algonquin tribes also called this moon the full Red Moon because the summer haze made it appear reddish as it rose, or the Green Corn moon.
If you’re up an hour or two before dawn, try looking to the east to find the elusive zodiacal light — a faint, broad glow pointing up along the sun’s path. This is the result of sunlight reflecting off grains of dust that extend far out into space in Earth’s orbital plane. August and September are the best months for spotting it in the morning, and it can also be seen after sunset in late winter. The summer apparition was dubbed the “false dawn” in the collection of poems called the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Morris, Duluth, and Twin Cities campuses. For more information and viewing schedules in Duluth, visit the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium at www.d.