Scottsdale Arizona

ARIZONA SKIES FOR AUGUST 2006 – August Skies by quotes

ARIZONA SKIES FOR AUGUST 2006 – August Skies Introduction:As we approach Autumn, Summer rapidly winds down during the month of August. Each August day is a bit shorter and each night a bit longer than the previous one. However, Summer’s spectacular stars and constellations remain visible nearly all the night, and the Milky Way presents excellent opportunities for stargazers in dark locations or if equipped with binoculars or a small telescope.

Perseid Meteor Shower: On several August nights (and days) in mid-month many very small pieces of debris from an old comet strike the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Dark-sky observers have the best chance to witness this annual spectacle etween August 9th and 13th. Unfortunately, this year a recently Full Moon will brighten our skies and make observing these meteors difficult. (SEE MORE INFORMATION BELOW!)Two 1st Quarter Moons in August: About every 6 months we have two days with the same lunar phase. This month we will have two 1st Quarter Moons, on August 2nd and 31st. Next May we will have two Full Moons. (The 2nd Full Moon of a month is the infamous “Blue Moon”!)

Triple-Planet Plus Moon Conjunction: The pre-dawn sky of August 22nd showcases planets Mercury, Venus and Saturn close to a very thin crescent Moon. (MORE BELOW)The Sun: The SUN begins August in there constellation of CANCER. It moves into LEO on August 10th and spends the rest of the month moving across the Zodiac lion.

The Moon:August’s NEW MOON occurs on the 23rd in LEO.

1st QUARTER MOONs occur August 2nd (VIRGO-LIBRA border) & August 31st in SCORPIO.August’s FULL MOON is the morning of August 9th in CAPRICORNUS, but we’ll note it the night before on the 8th when the Moon rises just at sunset and remains visible all night.

Our 3rd QUARTER Moon occurs on August 15th in ARIES.

The Moon passes near four naked-eye planets in August:

JUPITER: Near a very “fat” crescent Moon the evenings of the 1st AND the 29th.

VENUS: The morning of the 21st in CANCER.

MERCURY & SATURN: Low in the East the morning of August 22nd in LEO.

MARS: Near a thin crescent Moon the evening of the 25th in VIRGO.

The Moon will be seen close to these prominent stars:

Near Antares in SCORPIO the evenings of the 4th and the 31st.

Near the Pleiades star cluster in TAURUS the morning of the 16th.

Near Castor & Pollux in GEMINI the morning of the 20th.

Close to Spica in VIRGO the evening of the 27th.

The Evening Sky:Early August sunsets occur at about 7:20p.m., but the Sun will set noticeably earlier, at 6:45p.m., at month end.

Evening Planets. Mars and Jupiter.MARS, very low in the West, is never visible in a dark sky. On the 1st it sets at 8:45 p.m. but Mars is far from the Earth and faint, so will be difficult to see. Each evening Mars moves closer to the Sun and will be even more difficult to spot. Use binoculars for best results.

JUPITER, the 2nd brightest nighttime object after the Moon and Venus, remains in LIBRA all month. Jupiter is low in the sky and is moving with Libra closer to the Sun in August. The planet sets about 11:30p.m. on the 1st, but nearly two hours earlier at 9:45p.m. on the 31st.

What Else to See? Moon occultations: Watch through binoculars or a small telescope as the Moon occults (eclipses) the 3rd magnitude star Pi Scorpii on the evening of August 3rd. The star disappears behind the dark Eastern limb about 9:40p.m. and reappears about 10:55 p.m. on the West side of the Moon.As the Moon slowly moves from West to East around the Earth each month, it typically occults (or eclipses) several background stars; most are fairly faint. Several other occultations of stars of 6th magnitude or brighter are posted here.

Perseid Meteor Shower: (Hampered this year by a nearly Full Moon.) Early Perseid meteors could be seen toward the Northeast on the evenings of August 9th through the 13th. Even though the constellation is below the horizon, meteors might still be seen rising from the (below-the-horizon) direction of this constellation.Meteor watching is usually better in the early morning hours, when Perseus would be high in the sky, but the just-past-Full moon will seriously interfere. So, in a Moon-bright sky, observers will probably see only the brightest Perseid meteors.

Summer Milky Way: August is still an excellent month to view star clusters and star/gas clouds in the Milky Way. Look to the South starting with zodiac constellations SCORPIO and SAGITTARIUS. (Note Scorpio’s curved tail and stinger.) Just left of the stinger stars are 2 compact star clusters, #6 & #7 in Messier’s famous catalog of non-stellar objects. Above these clusters and along the Milky Way, even a small pair of binoculars will reveal a half dozen more fuzzy star clouds in the constellations of OPHIUCHUS, SCUTUM, DELPHINUS, AND AQUILA.Back to Scorpio: In the scorpion’s heart is the red Supergiant star ANTARES. Just a Moon’s diameter to the right of Antares is Messier object “M4”, a large “Globular Cluster” with over 100,000 stars packed into an area of the sky about the size of the Full Moon. It is fuzzy in binoculars, but a telescope of 6-inches diameter or larger will show dozens of individual pinpoint stars.

By 11p.m., CYGNUS (AKA the Northern Cross) will be nearly overhead. The three brightest stars there are the “Summer Triangle” (VEGA in Lyra & farthest West, DENEB in Cygnus lower to the East, and ALTAIR, in Aquila to the Southeast).

The Morning SkySunrise on August 1st is at 5:45a.m. Each morning afterward the Sun rises a bit later. August 31st’s sunrise occurs at 6:05a.m.

Prominent planetary conjunctions: Four morning planetary conjunctions occur in August, including the rare triple-planet-plus-Moon conjunction low in the morning sky on August 22nd.Mercury & Venus: Early in the month, orange Mercury loops up away from the sunrise point and approaches the bright white planet Venus. On the 10th, they appear closest in the sky.

Mercury & Saturn: Saturn rises up from the bright dawn to pass Mercury on the 20th and 21st. Be sure to note the changing position of the Moon on these mornings!Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Moon: On the 22nd, bright Venus rises first at 4:35a.m. By 5:15a.m., Saturn and Mercury should be visible below Venus and slightly to the left (North). The Moon (a bit above and farther left [North] of Saturn) now forms a squashed triangle with the three planets.

Saturn & Venus: Saturn continues to approach Venus. Saturn passes very close by Venus on the 26th, so watch them switch positions between the mornings of the 26th and 27th.Moon and Pleiades: The Moon approaches the Pleiades star cluster high overhead in Taurus the Zodiac bull just before dawn on August 16th. The first bright Pleiades star will be occulted (eclipsed) about 5:10a.m., while the Arizona sky is brightening. During the day, the Moon eclipses several other Pleiades stars, although observers in Hawaii will see the entire event in a dark sky.

Morning Planets: Mercury, Saturn and Venus.MERCURY begins August far (for Mercury) from the Sun in the sky. Mercury rises about 4:30 a.m., more than an hour before sunrise. But by month end, Mercury will rise with the Sun.

VENUS is on the far side of the Sun and very nearly in line with it. Venus continues to move closer to the Sun in August. On the 1st, Venus rises 110 minutes before the Sun. By month end, they are only 70 minutes apart and Venus is becoming difficult to spot.

SATURN starts the month close by the Sun. It rises earlier each day, rapidly moving Westward away from the Sun,. On the 17th, Saturn rises 30 minutes before the Sun, but by month-end Saturn will rise in a dark sky more than 100 minutes ahead of the Sun.

What Else to See? The Summer Milky Way is easy to see after midnight, as it reaches high overhead. It is also cooler in the wee hours, so morning observers are more comfortable outdoors in August. Binoculars or a small telescope will help you pick out many star clusters, star clouds and star/gas clouds by sweeping along the arc of the Milky Way from Cassiopeia in the Northeast to Sagittarius in the Southwest. (Note the online star chart below.)
The Moon will either occult or approach very close to several stars of 6th magnitude or brighter during August mornings. Specific times for these events are given here.

Good Luck Observing!

Some additional astronomy resources on the Internet include:

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Late-breaking Astronomy News

August Star Chart and online planetarium


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