What to watch for in the night sky this month.
In August Jupiter heads for the sunset. Every evening it sinks lower, along with its longtime companion Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. Saturn comes out in the south, between the Teapot of Sagittarius to the east and Scorpius to the west.
Also during evening hours, the Milky Way stretches across the sky from northeast to southwest. In its middle is the Summer Triangle of bright stars. Southernmost is Altair, in Aquila, the eagle; in the northeast corner is Deneb, the anchor of Cygnus, the swan, which contains the Northern Cross; and in the northwest corner is Vega, the jewel of Lyra, the lyre.
In the western sky, brilliant Arcturus seems to drag its constellation—kite-shaped Bootes, the herdsman—down toward the horizon.
Venus is still a morning star, blazing away in the east for a couple of hours before sunrise. As August begins, Venus rises in the middle of the knot of bright winter constellations. Surrounding Venus are Orion to the lower right and then, counterclockwise, Taurus and its brightest star, Aldebaran; Auriga the charioteer and its brightest star, Capella; and Gemini, with its “twin” stars Castor and Pollux. During the second week of August, the stars of Gemini stream by the planet. Watch Venus, Castor and Pollux form an ever-shifting triangle as the stars go by.
August's full moon arrives in the afternoon of the 7th, several hours before moonrise. To see it at its roundest you’ll have to look in the west very early that morning, or wait for it to rise in the east that evening. Check your local times of moonset and moonrise. The waning moon interferes with the peak of the Perseid meteor shower the nights of the 11th-12th and 12th-13th, but on the 19th a lovely old crescent rises below Venus.
August’s biggest event is, of course, the solar eclipse on the 21st. As usual with solar eclipses, if you watch, make sure you have eyewear certified to protect you. In Minnesota we get a partial eclipse, with the more southern regions seeing a bigger piece of the sun disappear. The height of the eclipse occurs near 1 p.m. across the state.
Solar eclipses happen at the new moon phase, and following the new moon we watch the eastward march of the waxing crescent across the evening sky. The moon glides above Jupiter between the 24th and 25th, and on the 29th it appears just west of Saturn and above Antares, the giant red heart of Scorpius. It finishes its momentous month shining above the lovely Teapot of Sagittarius.
The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Duluth and Twin Cities campuses. For more information and viewing schedules, see:
Duluth, Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium: www.d.umn.edu/planet
Twin Cities, Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics: www.astro.umn.edu/outreach/pubnight
Check out the astronomy programs at the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum ExploraDome: http://www.bellmuseum.umn. edu/exploradome
Find U of M astronomers and links to the world of astronomy at http://www. astro.umn.edu