January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Celestial Highlights for August 2014

Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

by Robert C. Victor with twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller

Mars and Saturn draw attention in the southwest evening sky, as they appear within 10° Aug. 8-Sept. 10, and within 5° Aug. 19-31. Viewed through a telescope this month, Saturn with its shadow cast upon its rings has a striking 3-dimensional appearance.

Some 45 minutes to an hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus low in east-northeast is accompanied by Jupiter, itself of considerable brightness, no more than 5° away Aug. 13-22. On Aug. 17, the two spectacular points of light are just 0.7° apart, and on Aug. 18, an even more impressive 0.4°.

Attractive gatherings of Moon with these planet pairs occur on August 23 at dawn, and on August 31 at dusk. Dark moonless evenings offer excellent views of the Milky Way, best Aug. 1-2 and 28-31 after moonset; Aug. 13-16 before moonrise; and Aug. 17-27.

August 2014 at dusk 

The five brightest objects in evening mid-twilight are: Arcturus and Vega, mag. 0.0; Mars (+0.4 to +0.6), Saturn (+0.5 to +0.6), and Altair (mag. +0.8).

Planets: Finally, we have our first mutual conjunction of naked-eye planets in the evening sky this year, as Mars passes 3.4° S of Saturn on Aug. 25, in SW sky. At dusk on Aug. 31 a thick crescent Moon forms a pretty gathering with Mars and Saturn, several hours after a daytime occultation of the ringed planet.

Stars: Arcturus, Spica, Antares, all in W half of sky, sink lower as month progresses. Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair, and Deneb, well up in E, ascends still higher.

The Moon in evening sky is found near Spica on Aug. 1 & 2; Mars on Aug. 2 and 3; Saturn on Aug. 3 and 4; Antares on Aug. 5; Spica on Aug. 29; Mars and Saturn on Aug. 31, forming a nice trio! See Sky Calendar for illustrations of these events.

Follow the Moon daily one to 1-1/4 hours after sunset August 1-11, and starting again on August 27 or 28, as a waxing crescent for the rest of the month.

On Tues. Aug. 5, Antares appears within 8° below the Moon, now nearly three-quarters full.

On Sunday, Aug. 10, with unobstructed views of the horizon, you can catch the Full “Supermoon” setting 15° south of west a few minutes before sunrise, and rising 12° south of east a few minutes before sunset. An hour after sunset, the Full Moon is 12° up in ESE.

On Monday, Aug. 11, the Moon rises within 40 minutes after sunset, and by one hour after sunset the Moon appears only 4° up and 9° south of east.

After Full, the waning Moon rises later each evening, but not quickly enough to prevent bright moonlight from diminishing the peak of the Perseid meteor shower on the night of Aug. 12-13. As an example, here are moonrise times for Palm Springs: Sun. Aug. 10 at 7:32 p.m. PDT; Mon. Aug. 11 at 8:16 p.m.; Tues. Aug. 12 at 8:57 p.m.; Wed. Aug. 13 at 9:37 p.m.; Thurs. Aug. 14 at 10:17 p.m.; Fri. Aug. 15 at 10:58 p.m. On Saturday, Aug. 16, the Moon, just over half illuminated and approaching Last Quarter phase, rises at 11:40 p.m.

Perseid meteors can be seen anywhere in the sky, but if the track of a Perseid meteor is extended backward, it will trace back to the radiant in Perseus, to lower left, or later in the night, below, the “W” of Cassiopeia. That’s the direction from which the stream of meteoroids (dust from Comet Swift-Tuttle) approaches Earth. On the evening of Tues. Aug. 12, as twilight ends from lat. 34° north some ten minutes after moonrise, the shower radiant is only 8° up in NNE. Meteors seen then won’t be plentiful, but any that are seen will be “Earth-grazers”, with long paths dipping into our atmosphere at a shallow angle. As twilight begins at 4:35 a.m. on Wednesday morning Aug. 13, the radiant is nearly 60 degrees up in NNE to NE. Meteors will be more plentiful, because our part of the Earth will be presented more broad side to the incoming stream. But this year the Moon will be high and bright, reducing the numbers seen.

Note on Wednesday evening, Aug. 13, there is a brief half-hour window of dark skies before moonrise, presenting another chance for seeing Earth-grazers, but not many, because Earth has moved out of the core of the Perseid stream.

In 2015, the Perseid meteor shower will be a grand spectacle, as New Moon will occur on August 14, only one day after peak.

August 2014 at dawn

Five brightest “stars”: Venus; Jupiter and Sirius, once they appear, in August’s second week; Vega and Capella.

Planets: A spectacular, close pairing of the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, will provide much enjoyment for morning twilight skywatchers in August. Try to catch emerging Jupiter on earliest possible date. Please see Sky Calendar for illustrations of these events . On Aug. 8, watch for Jupiter rising in ENE within 10° lower left of Venus and moving about 1° closer to it each day. By Aug. 13, the planets are only 5° apart. Look daily and enjoy the show! On Aug. 17, they’re 0.7° apart, and on August 18, the two bright planets will appear closest, within 0.4° apart! They’ll spread to just over 5° apart by Aug. 23, when a waning crescent Moon appears to their right, within 5° to 8° away.

Stars: As this month begins, we see the Summer Triangle in W to NW, and Fomalhaut in SSW to SW, sinking lower with each passing day. In the eastern sky, as August opens, we’re already seeing Capella, Aldebaran, and Orion’s Betelgeuse and Rigel as described in the opening lines of Robert Frost’s poem, The Star Splitter; and we’re also seeing Venus, and Pollux. Joining the spectacle in August’s second week are Jupiter, Procyon, and Sirius. On many long-ago August mornings, I enjoyed finding out by observation on which date I could first spot Procyon, the “before the Dog” announcer of Sirius, and then Sirius itself a few mornings later.

If you look at just the right time, from a place where mountains don’t block your view, you can see the Winter Triangle and Summer Triangle simultaneously, just after Sirius rises and before Altair sets. You can then observe 11 of the 16 stars of first magnitude or brighter ever visible from southern California, or 11 of the 15 ever visible from northern parts of the state.

See the Moon in morning near Aldebaran on Aug. 18; and Venus and Jupiter on Aug. 23, a brilliant gathering!

Seize opportunities this summer to enjoy the beauty of the sky!

Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts, did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

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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.

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