Night Sky - Astro Bob
by Bob King
Summer’s a fantastic time to enjoy the stars. Three bright planets vie for our attention this season – Jupiter and Saturn in the evening sky and Venus at dawn. The Perseid meteor shower puts on a cosmic fireworks show in mid-August and the northern lights can flare up when you least expect it. With long twilights the norm, it’s the perfect time to enjoy satellite watching from the hot tub or with hands cupped behind your head on the dock.
Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Monday, August 21. That’s when the moon will cover the sun in total eclipse around 1:15 p.m. Central Time (2:15 p.m. Eastern). Our region will see a deep partial eclipse with about three-quarters of the sun covered at maximum. For more information on where to see the total eclipse, Google greatamericaneclipse.com.
Prominent star groups this time of year include the Big Dipper, the brightest part of Ursa Major the Great Bear, which prowls the northwestern sky at nightfall. Look for the Northern Cross in the east and the zodiac constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius in the south: all three are wrapped in the jewel-studded sash of the magnificent Milky Way. Wishing you hours of happy gazing! —SF☀
Bob King is author of “Night Sky with the Naked Eye” an activity based book aimed at both beginning and amateur astronomers. In it he guides readers to all the wonderful things visible in the night sky without special equipment. It covers satellites, the aurora, the brighter constellations, nighttime clouds and halo phenomena, planets, the moon, meteor showers and much more.
Night Sky – Summer Schedule
EARLY JUNE – Watch for the International Space Station at dusk. It looks like a brilliant, pale yellow star with a steady light, moving from west to east across the sky.
JUNE 9 – Full Moon shines to the left of Saturn.
JUNE 15 – Saturn reaches opposition. It’s closest to the Earth for the year and opposite the sun in the sky, rising at sunset and visible all night. Even a small telescope will show its rings, which are fully tipped into view in 2017. Saturn spends most of the spring and summer in Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer near neighboring Sagittarius. What a great time to dig that old scope out of the attic or buy a new one!
JUNE 20-21 – Summer solstice. The solstice marks the first day of summer and occurs at 11:24 p.m. Central Time (12:24 a.m. Eastern June 21). Days are longest and nights shortest. From the northernmost parts of the region, twilight lasts all night.
JUNE 20 – Crescent moon shines to the right of Venus in the eastern sky at dawn.
JUNE 30 – First quarter moon shines to the right of Jupiter at nightfall.
JULY 3 – Earth farthest from the sun for the year. Don’t expect it to cool off much! The tilt of Earth’s axis causes the familiar changes of season, not our distance from the sun which varies by only 3 million miles or about 3 percent during the year.
JULY 6 – Waxing gibbous moon shines directly above Saturn at nightfall.
JULY 20 – Crescent moon shines below Venus in the eastern sky at dawn. LATE JULY INTO EARLY AUGUST – The International Space Station makes passes over the region during evening twilight.
JULY 28 – Crescent moon shines above Jupiter in the western sky at dusk.
AUGUST 12-13 – Peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower with 60-100 meteors visible per hour under a dark, moonless sky. You can start watching on the night of the 12th. The later you stay up, the more meteors you’ll see. This year’s shower will be compromised a bit by the waning moon, which rises around midnight. The Perseids get their name from Perseus the Hero, the constellation these starry sparks appear to radiate from. Perseids are bits and pieces of rock and dust shed by Comet Swift-Tuttle that burn up in our atmosphere when Earth crosses the stream each August.
AUGUST 21 – Total eclipse of the sun. The 67-milewide
path of totality, where the sun will be completely eclipsed by the moon, slices across the continental U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina. It’s the first total eclipse visible from the mainland since 1979. Outside the path, the rest of the U.S. and much of Canada and Mexico will experience a partial solar eclipse. Google rainbowsymphony.com to purchase a safe viewing filter.
SEPTEMBER 10 – Mercury is in conjunction with Leo’s brightest star, Regulus. They’ll appear very close together – like a double star. Look low in the eastern sky about 45 minutes before sunup one outstretched fist to the lower left of Venus. Use binoculars! Today marks the start of a remarkable series of conjunctions of Venus, Mars, Mercury and the dawn crescent moon.
SEPTEMBER 16 – Mercury and Mars will be in close conjunction low in the eastern sky about 45 minutes before sunrise a fist to the lower left of Venus.
SEPTEMBER 18 – Venus, Regulus, the moon, Mars and Mercury all be line up low in the eastern sky about 45 minutes before sunrise.
SEPTEMBER 20 – Venus in close conjunction with Regulus.
SEPTEMBER 22 – September Equinox. Fall begins at 3:02 p.m. Central Time (4:02 p.m. Eastern). Day and night across the Earth are almost exactly equal: 12 hours of daylight, 12 hours of night.
OCTOBER 5 – Venus and Mars are very close -- only a half moon’s width apart -- low in the eastern sky about 45 minutes before sunrise. Mars is much fainter than Venus, so you may need binoculars to see it. —SF☀