January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Celestial Highlights for August 2013

Posted: Thursday, August 1st, 2013

by Robert Victor and Robert D. Miller

At dusk in August, watch Venus slowly close in on Spica and Saturn until pairings on September 5 and 17-18. The best Milky Way viewing occurs on the evenings of July 28-August 9 and August 26-September 7. Get to a dark site by nightfall, and enjoy! The dark moonless predawn hours of August 12 and 13 make this an excellent year for the annual Perseid meteor shower. By mid-August, dawn brings forth the greatest number of bright stars visible simultaneously.

Evening Events

At dusk, Venus continues as the brilliant evening “star” in evening twilight, while drifting from W to WSW during August. Venus will grace our evening sky until early January 2014. Until then, a waxing crescent Moon passes Venus monthly, producing most striking views at dusk on Friday, August 9 and on Sunday, September 8. Be sure your students catch these!

On our evening all-sky chart, planets are plotted for each day when the Sun has sunk to 9° below the horizon, at “mid-twilight”. By then, two naked-eye planets and half a dozen stars of first magnitude or brighter are easily seen. In August, from Palm Springs, Los Angeles, and other places near lat. 34° N, mid-twilight occurs 44 to 40 minutes after sunset. From northernmost California, wait about 5 minutes longer.

Planet positions are represented by a separate dot for each date, with positions for each Thursday in August (1, 8, 15, 22, 29), represented by a larger dot and labeled. We find Saturn and Spica in the southwest to west-southwest sky this month, to the upper left of Venus. Rotate the chart until the portion of the horizon circle nearest to your target objects is below them, and you’ll see them depicted at the same orientation as they appear in the SW to W sky: On August 1, Venus is in west, with Saturn in SW 53° to Venus’ upper left, while Spica is 12° lower right of Saturn and 41° upper left of Venus. On August 31, Venus is in WSW, with Saturn 19° to its upper left, while Spica is just 6° upper left of Venus and 14° lower right of Saturn.

On the chart, stars’ daily positions are plotted, not as individual dots, but instead by continuous tracks as the stars drift west (counter-clockwise around the North Star) in the course of the month, owing to the Earth’s revolution around the Sun.

The brightest star in August’s evening sky is golden Arcturus, high in WSW to W, to upper right of Saturn and Spica and forming a large triangle with them. When the sky darkens enough for the Big Dipper to become visible, you can “follow the arc (of the handle) to Arcturus and drive a spike to Spica.”

Closely after Arcturus in brilliance is blue-white Vega, very high in ENE. Compare the contrasting colors of these two stars! To Vega’s lower left is Deneb, and to Vega’s lower right is Altair, completing the Summer Triangle. Face S to SSW to find reddish Antares, heart of the Scorpion.

During August 8-21, the Moon is above the horizon in evening mid-twilight. Follow it nightly as it waxes, (grows), from a thin crescent on August 8, past First Quarter (half full) by August 14, to Full on August 20. The Moon appears near Venus on August 9th, Spica on the 11th, Saturn on the 12th, and Antares on the 15th.

Coming events: Follow Venus! During the rest of its current evening apparition, Venus will pass three bright objects, going 1.6° north of Spica on September 5, next 3.5° south of Saturn on September 17 and 18, and finally 1.5° north of Antares on October 16. These events will be interesting to follow with unaided eye and binoculars, as Venus and companion will fit within a binoculars’ field of view for several evenings before and after the closest pairings

This selection of diagrams from the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar  illustrates the Moon’s changing position against background stars in August and early September, and the changing arrangements of Venus-Spica-Saturn at dusk and Jupiter-Mars-Mercury at dawn. For more on Sky Calendar, visit www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/skycalendar/.

Source: Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11. http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

 

Source: Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11. http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

 

Source: Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11. http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

 

Source: Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11. http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

 

Source: Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11. http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

 

Source: Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11. http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

 

Source: Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11. http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

Source: Abrams Planetarium
A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11.
http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

Dawn Events: Our all-sky chart for morning mid-twilight depicts the sky 44 to 40 minutes before sunrise in southern California.

Jupiter is the bright morning “star”. In mid-twilight, you’ll find it about 20° up in ENE on August 1, and climbing nearly halfway from east horizon to overhead by month’s end. Mars, of mag. +1.6 and not quite qualifying as first magnitude, is lower left of Jupiter, within 5° on August 1, widening to 18° by Aug. 31. Mercury on Aug. 1 is within 8° lower left of Mars and 12° lower left of Jupiter, but drops into bright twilight around mid-month. To Jupiter’s upper left, find bright Capella, the “Mother Goat” star, in NE, higher as month progresses. To Jupiter’s upper right is reddish Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull, with the compact Pleiades star cluster or Seven Sisters (not shown) 14° higher. Below Taurus, find Betelgeuse and Rigel, shoulder and foot of Orion, the Hunter.

The Summer Triangle of Vega-Deneb-Altair is still visible in W to WNW at dawn early in August, but only Deneb remains at month’s end.

In the predawn darkness of August 12 and 13, catch the annual Perseid meteor shower near its peak. With no Moon present to spoil the view, this is a very good year! After viewing the shower, follow Orion’s belt downward as dawn brightens to watch for the rising of Sirius, the “Dog Star”, in the ESE. Procyon already risen in the east completes the Winter Triangle with Sirius and Betelgeuse. Spot Sirius before you lose sight of Altair sinking in the west, and you’ll see both the Winter and Summer Triangles simultaneously!

If you succeed, you can tally 11 stars and two planets of first magnitude or brighter. We’ve not yet mentioned Pollux, in ENE to lower left of Jupiter (with 1.6-mag. Castor, the other Gemini Twin, not plotted, 4½° above Pollux), and Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, very low in SW

The waning crescent Moon in the morning sky passes appears near the Pleiades star cluster on July 31 and August 27, Aldebaran on August 1 and 28, Jupiter on August 3 and 31, Mars on August 4 and September 2, and Mercury on August 5.

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs.

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.

2 Responses

  1. So the bright star I see in the WSW around 8-9 pm PST in L.A. County, is Spica?

  2. It’s Venus, which did appear close to Spica around Sept. 5, and not as close to
    Saturn on Sept. 17-18. In both cases, Venus was by far the brighter object. Spica is gone now, heading for its annual conjunction with the Sun in mid-October. Venus will pass on the near side of the Sun on January 11, and before then it will get quite a bit higher than it is now, and will reach a peak in brilliance about 5 weeks before its “inferior conjunction” of Jan. 11.

    Have a look at Venus through a telescope, and follow it until it disappears from view in January, as it changes dramatically in size and shape. You can also start seeing Venus in the morning in January, and see it go through the same changes in reverse order. A great after-school activity from now until the start of January, if you can locate Venus in the afternoon sky, and an even better activity in the morning at the beginning of the school day starting in January, as soon as the planet moves far enough from the Sun to be found easily in the daytime not long after sunrise. Once Venus moves into the morning sky, all you need to do is find it before sunup, when it’s easy, and then just keep track of it until the sun rises and beyond. Five weeks after the Jan. 11 inferior conjunction, Venus will reach a second peak in brilliance. Have your students rediscover what Galileo saw.

    Clear skies!

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