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  Night Sky

August Night Sky

Enjoy our starry night skies
Be a considerate neighbor:
Reduce nighttime glare.
Shield your outside lights downward,
so no glare goes up to dull the night sky
(or into your neighbor’s windows)
and enjoy the beautiful stars above.

August 2011 Night Sky

Charlie Christmann

Teapot

Almost due south, low in the sky at 9PM this month, you will find the constellation Sagittarius, the Archer. It is the ninth sign of the zodiac and lies along the elliptic where the sun passed through the constellation from late December to late January; therefore, summer is the time to see this asterism.

Often, Sagittarius is depicted on sky maps as a half-man, half-horse centaur, but there is another centaur in our night sky, and the mythology is often confused between the two. Centaurus cannot be seen in New Mexico but resides just below the horizon under Lupus. Centaurus depicts Chiron, where Sagittarius originally depicted the satyr Crotus.

Both satyrs and centaurs were known to be wild and rowdy creatures with little respect for authority and manners to match. Crotus and Chiron were both exceptions. They were knowledgeable in the arts and sciences and even polite to humans. They both were known to hunt with a bow and arrow. The differences came in appearance—they both have the head and torso of a man, but the back half of a centaur was a four-legged horse, where satyrs had the back two-legs of a goat. The constellation Sagittarius originated in Sumeria, where Crotus was a satyr. The Greeks later picked up the asterism, but they appear to have missed something in the translation. The Greeks kept the bow and arrow, but changed the creature to a centaur figure.

Today, most people see Sagittarius as a “teapot,” but with some imagination, you can still make out the bow and arrow, pointing at the heart of the Scorpion (the star Antares) to avenge Orion, who met his demise with the scorpion’s sting. The star that represents the top of the bow is at the top of the teapot, with the bottom of the bow at the bottom right of the teapot. A star that is about halfway between them represents the middle of the bow. The stars are named Kaus Borealis, Kaus Media, and Kaus Australis, which means the northern, middle, and southern bow.

Kaus Australis is the brightest star in the constellation. It is a stellar giant that has puffed up as it nears the end of its life. The bow’s other stars are giants, too. The one in the middle is actually the most impressive; Kaus Meridionalis is actually bigger and brighter than the others, just farther away. The bow’s other stars are stellar giants, too. The upper star of the bow is called Kaus Borealis. It is a prime example of what astronomers call a “clump star,” one that, although dying, is currently stable and happily fusing helium into carbon and oxygen in its deep core.

Sagittarius is set apart from other constellations in that the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, lies within its boundaries. On dark, moonless nights, look for the “steam” billowing out of the Teapot spout. This steam is actually an edgewise view of our galactic disk.  In that cloud of stars, hidden by vast clouds of dust is Sagittarius A, a bright source of X-rays thought to be a massive black hole some 26,000 light years away. This black hole is at least four million times heaver than our sun and marks the center of our galaxy. Several young, bright, hot stars closely orbit the black hole making the galactic center a maelstrom and a great place to heat some tea.

Planets and Moon

  • Mercury can be found after the 20th low in the east before sunrise.
  • Venus will be hanging close to the sun this month.
  • Mars can be found before sunrise in the east. Mars will be 3 degrees to the upper left of the Moon on the 25th, one hour before sunrise.
  • Jupiter is rising after sunset this month in the east. There is a Moon-Jupiter conjunction on the 19th. Look 2.5 hours after sunset.
  • Saturn will be low in the west after sunset. Fifty minutes after sunset on the 3rd, look for Saturn 8 degrees above the waxing crescent Moon. Spica will be to the left of Saturn.
  • The Moon is full on the 13th and new on the 28th.
   

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