The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


August Night Sky

Looking South August 15, 9:30 p.m.

August 2008 Night Sky


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. I did.

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.

• 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 in Sagittarius.
• 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 evening, too.
• 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 the 30th.

If you have a question or comment for Charlie, you may email him at:


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 or call (505) 254-TAAS.


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