Looking South August 15, 9:30 p.m.
August 2008 Night Sky
SAVE OUR NIGHT SKY AND OUR SLEEP
I think anyone who lives near the Placitas Community Center on Camino
de las Huertas has seen the new signage and the new lighting on
the sign. I have been receiving emails about the new lights, especially
from nearby neighbors. If you are concerned about the lighting,
call our County Commissioner, Orlando Lucero, via the county switchboard
at (505) 867-7538. Get your friends and neighbors to do the same.
HOT AUGUST NIGHTS
OK, I did just see a Neil Diamond tribute by that title, but August
is a good time to get outdoors in the evenings and see the sights
in our sky. This month, I’ll take you on a tour of the visible
stars and planets.
Let’s start in the northwest. Everyone seems to be able to
find the Big Dipper. This pattern is actually a part of Ursa Major
(the Big Bear). The handle of the dipper forms the bear’s
tail. The three bright stars in the handle, starting near the dipper,
are Alioth, Mizar, and Alkaid on the end. Use the two brighter stars
in the pouring end of the bowl, Merak on the western side, and Dubhe
on the eastern side to point to Polaris.
Polaris is the very tip of the handle in the Little Dipper or Ursa
Minor (the Small Bear). Keep on that line farther to the west. There
you will see a misshapen “W.” This is Cassiopeia. Following
the shape of the “W” stars from the highest in the sky
to the lowest, we find Caph, Shedar, Gamma Cassiopeia, Ruchbah,
and finally Eta Cassiopeia.
Low and to the east of Cassiopeia is Andromeda. Use Caph and Shedar
to point near the horizon and find Almaak. Low and to the east of
that star are Mirach and then Alpheratz.
Look higher in the sky now to find bright Deneb in Cygnus, the
Swan. Almost directly overhead is even brighter Vega in Lyra. Halfway
up the sky in the southeast is where bright Altar lives, in the
constellation Aquila. This evening, the waning Moon is located in
the constellation Capricornus.
Now look just east of south, low in the sky. There you may be
able to find the “teapot” shape of the constellation
Sagittarius. Jupiter will help you find this one; it resides in
Sagittarius this month. Just below Jupiter is Nunki. Then below
and to the right is Kaus Australis, the two brighter stars of this
constellation. Just west of south resides Scorpius with its bright
red heart called Antares. The two brightest stars in its tail are
Sragas and Shaula at its tip.
Another bright star, Spica, can be found low in the west-southwest
in the constellation Virgo. And finally, find bright Arcturus about
halfway up in the east. If you are feeling really adventurous and
have a good telescope, you can also find Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the 12th. The expected maximum
activity will be during the morning hours with one meteor per minute.
THE PLANETS AND THE MOON
• Mercury can be found late in the month very low on the western
horizon between Venus and Mars after sunset.
• Venus is also low in the western sky after sunset.
• Mars is near Venus, low on the western horizon after sunset.
Look for a Moon-Mars conjunction on the 3rd with Mars to the upper
left of the Moon about forty-five minutes after sunset.
• Jupiter can be found in the southern sky shining very brightly
• Saturn is on the horizon just after sunset early in the
month. Mercury and Saturn converge on the evening of the 15th.
• On the 2nd, get out your binoculars and scan the western
horizon ten minutes after sunset. There you will find a great lineup
of Venus with the thin crescent Moon to the left. Between the two
is Regulus, dim in the setting Sun’s glare. You might want
to try for Mercury along the horizon in the west-northwest that
• The 13th is also a great night to view some planets. Look
thirty minutes after sunset on the western horizon to find bright
Venus. Use binoculars to try and locate Saturn just to the left
(one-half of a degree) of Venus with Mercury below and to the right.
If you’re feeling lucky, try Mars above to the left along
a line drawn from Mercury to Venus. Also, find Jupiter (no binoculars
needed) after dark with the Moon to its upper right. The bright
star below Jupiter is Nunki.
• The Moon will be full on the 16th with a partial eclipse
visible from Newfoundland to western Europe. The New Moon is on
If you have a question or comment for Charlie,
you may email him at: email@example.com.
Stargazing in the Manzanos
Every month, the Albuquerque Astronomical Society (TAAS) and the
Sandia Ranger District co-host an evening of free public stargazing
in the Manzano Mountains at the Oak Flat Campground. Upcoming dates
in this popular Saturday evening stargazing series are August 23rd,
September 6th, and October 4th. The dark skies of the East Mountains
and the large telescopes of TAAS astronomers together provide great
views of planets, as well as more elusive deep-sky objects such
as galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters. Observing begins at sunset,
weather permitting, and is suitable for all ages. Picnic facilities
are available for those who would like to come early, and adjacent
parking is available. Alcoholic beverages and pets are not allowed
in the telescope viewing area. To get there, take NM Highway 337
nine miles south of the Tijeras exit on I-40, and follow the signs
to Oak Flat and Juniper Loop. For more information, visit www.taas.org
or call (505) 254-TAAS.