Skyguide - with Neill McKeown

Neill McKeown

OBSERVING GUIDE
(Please note all times are ST and are based on an observing location of Belfast and covers the month of August)

The Sun

At the start of the month, the Sun rises at 05:35 and sets at 21:20. By month's end, it rises at 06:30 and sets at 20:15.

There is partial solar eclipse on the evening of the 21st. The approx. details are that the eclipse will start at 19:39 and end at 20:23 (Sunset is 20:40). At its peak 9% of the sun's disk will be covered by the moon. As it is a partial eclipse, IF YOU WISH TO OBSERVE IT YOU MUST USE PROPER SOLAR ECLIPSE GLASSES or ASTRO GEAR WHICH IS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED FOR VIEWING THE SUN SAFELY.

The Planets

Mercury is at inferior conjunction on the 26th and is not visible this month.

Venus is a morning object in August. It rises at 02:30 at the start of the month, by month’s end it rises at 03:25. It fades from mag -3.9 to mag -3.8 during the month.

Mars is not visible this month.

Jupiter is visible in the evening sky this month in Virgo. During the month, it is visible as soon as darkness falls and sets at 21:20 by month’s end. It fades from mag -1.7 to mag -1.6 during the month.

Saturn is visible this month in Ophiuchus. During the month, it is visible as soon as darkness falls and sets at 23:45 by month’s end. It fades from mag +0.3 to mag +0.4 during the month.

Uranus becomes visible in the evening sky this month in Pisces. At the start of the month, it rises at 23:30, by month’s end it rises at 21:30. It brightens from mag +5.8 to mag +5.7 and lies near to Torcularis Septentrionalis (Omicron (ο) Piscium, mag +4.3) during the month.

Neptune is visible in the evening sky this month in Aquarius. At the start of the month, it rises at 22:25 and by month’s end it rises at 20:25. It maintains its brightness at mag +7.8 and lies near to Lambda (λ) Aquarii, mag +3.7 during the month.

The Moon

The full moon on the 7th (19:10). The last quarter moon is on the 15th (02:15) with the new moon on the 21st (19:30). The first quarter moon is on the 29th (09:13).

There is a penumbral lunar eclipse on the evening of the 7th. The moon rises at 21:00 while still in the Earth’s outer shadow (penumbra) and the eclipse finishes at 21:50. This will lack the wow factor of a total lunar eclipse, but may still be worth a look.

There is a daytime lunar occultation of Aldebaran (Alpha (α) Tauri, mag +0.9) on the 16th between the times of 07:30 and 08:40 approximately.

1st pm the waxing gibbous lies NW of Antares (Alpha (α) Scorpii, mag +1.0) at 23:00.

2nd pm the waxing gibbous lies NE of Antares (Alpha (α) Scorpii, mag +1.0) and NW of Saturn at 23:00.

3rd pm the waxing gibbous lies NE of Saturn at 23:00.

9th pm the waning gibbous lies SW of Neptune at 23:00.

13th am the waning gibbous lies SW of Uranus at 00:00.

16th am the waning crescent lies NW of Aldebaran (Alpha (α) Tauri, mag +0.9) at 02:00.

19th am the waning crescent lies SW of Venus at 04:00.

25th pm the waxing crescent lies NE of Jupiter and NW of Spica (Alpha (α) Virginis, mag +1.0) at 21:00.

29th pm the waxing gibbous lies N of Antares (Alpha (α) Scorpii, mag +1.0) and NW of Saturn at 21:00.

30th pm the waxing gibbous lies NE of Saturn at 21:00.

Meteors

The best time to observe meteor showers is when the moon is below the horizon; otherwise its bright glare limits the number you will see especially the fainter ones. Below is a guide to this month's showers.

The Perseids peak on the night of 12th/13th with a ZHR of 150. The radiant is visible as soon as darkness falls on the evening of the 12th, but a waning gibbous moon rises at 23:05 in Pisces on the same evening, so you get roughly 2 hours after sunset to spot any meteors before the moon spoils the view.

There may be additional minor showers this month, details of which can be found in the below Information Sources and Links Section.

Asteroids

There are no bright asteroids at opposition this month.

Finder charts and further information about other fainter asteroids can be found in the below Information Sources and Links Section.

Comets

Comet C/2015 ER61 (PanSTARRS) is currently mag +9 and fading. This month, it will be in Taurus. At the start of the month, it will be visible from around 03:00, by month’s end it will be visible from around 01:00. Between the 15th and the 22nd, it passes South of M45- The Pleiades and this well-known object can be used to locate the comet.

Finder charts and further information about the above and other fainter comets can be found in the below Information Sources and Links Section. Any of the above estimates are based on current information at the time of writing the guide and can be wrong - “Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want”, David H Levy.

Deep Sky

On the deep sky front this month, galaxies M81 and M82 can be observed in Ursa Major. Check out the constellation Canes Venatici with the globular cluster - M3 and several galaxies including M51 - the Whirlpool Galaxy and M63 - the Sunflower Galaxy. In Hercules, two globular clusters - M92 and the excellent M13 can be observed and in Lyra - M57 - The Ring Nebula can be observed. In Vulpecula - M27 - The Dumbbell Nebula can be found. In Andromeda, M31 - The Andromeda galaxy can be observed along with its satellite galaxies M32 and M110. In Perseus, there is the open cluster M34 and the excellent Double Cluster. Finally in Triangulum, there is the galaxy M33.

General Notes

Always keep an eye out for Aurorae. We have the return to dark skies in August with Astronomical twilight no longer dominating the night.

Watch out for NLCs - Noctilucent Clouds during the first half of August. Look to the North-West for a white/silvery glow 1.5 - 2 hours after sunset and to the North-East a similar amount of time before sunrise. They can sometimes be faint, sometimes bright. Other interesting naked eye phenomena to look out for include the Zodiacal Light and the Gegenschein. Both are caused by sunlight reflecting off dust particles which are present in the solar system.

The Zodiacal Light can be seen in the West after evening twilight has disappeared or in the East before the morning twilight. The best time of year to see the phenomenon is late-Feb to early-April in the evening sky and September/October in the morning sky - it's then that the ecliptic, along which the cone of the zodiacal light lies, is steepest in our skies. The Gegenschein can be seen in the area of the sky opposite the sun. To view either, you must get yourself to a very dark site to cut out the light pollution. When trying to observe either of these phenomena, it is best to do so when the moon is below the horizon. A new appendix has been added explaining some of the more technical terms used in the guide.

Clear Skies

Neill McKeown

 
 

The ZHR or Zenithal Hourly Rate is the number of meteors an observer would see in one hour under a clear, dark sky with a limiting apparent magnitude of 6.5 and if the radiant of the shower were in the zenith. The rate that can effectively be seen is nearly always lower and decreases as the radiant is closer to the horizon. The Zenith is the overhead point in the sky.

 
The radiant is the point in the sky, from which (to a planetary observer) meteors appear to originate, i.e. the Perseids, for example, are meteors which appear to come from a point within the constellation of Perseus. When the radiant is quoted as "circumpolar", it is never below the horizon and visible all night, otherwise the times quoted are when the constellation in which the radiant lies rises above the horizon in the East.
 
A fireball is defined by the International Astronomical Union as a meteor brighter than any of the planets, i.e. magnitude -4 or brighter. The International Meteor Organisation alternatively defines it as a meteor which would have a magnitude of -3 or brighter at the zenith.
 
The ° symbol in the guide is that for degrees. A degree is two full moon widths to give an idea for judging any distances quoted in the guide. There are 60 arcminutes in a degree.
 
An asterism is a collection of stars seen in Earth's sky which form simple patterns which are easy to identify, i.e. the Big Dipper. They can be formed from stars within the same constellation or by stars from more than one constellation. Like the constellations, they are a line of sight phenomenon and the stars whilst visible in the same general direction, are not physically related and are often at significantly different distances from Earth.
 
Mag is short for magnitude which is the measure of an object's brightness. The smaller the number, the brighter the object. The brightest object in the sky is the Sun at mag -26, the full moon is mag -12 and Venus the brightest planet is mag -4. The brightest stars are mag -1. If there is a 1 mag difference between two objects - there is a difference in brightness of a factor of 2.5 between the two objects. For example the full moon is eight magnitudes brighter than Venus on average which means it is 1,526 times brighter than Venus. Objects down to mag +6 can be seen with the naked eye under very dark skies.
 
Local time is always quoted in the guide and this means for November - February - universal time (UT)/GMT is used and for April to September - daylight savings time (DST, = GMT+1). For the months of March and October when the clocks go forward/back respectively, both times will be used and attention should be paid to any times at the end of these months for that change.
 
Deep Sky Objects such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters are classified in catalogues such as the Messier catalogue for objects like M44 - M for Messier. Another example of a catalogue would the New General catalogue whose objects have the prefix NGC. There are links for websites to both catalogues in the section above.
 
Perihelion is the point in the orbit of a planet, asteroid or comet where it is at the nearest point in its orbit to the sun. It is the opposite of Aphelion, which is when the object is at the farthest point in its orbit from the sun. For the earth, the comparative terms used are perigee and apogee and for the moon, pericynthion and apocynthion are sometimes used.
 
 

Planets
 
The Planets
 
From Earth - Mercury and Venus are the inner planets in the solar system and Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are the outer planets. Below is a short guide as to how both the inner and outer planets move around the sun. The above pictorial guide should hopefully help in this.
 
The Inner Planets
 
These are best seen when at Greatest Eastern/Western elongation and are not visible when at either Inferior/Superior conjunction. Greatest Eastern elongation is when the inner planet is at its furthest point east from the sun as seen from Earth and visible in the evening sky in the West after sunset, Western elongation is when it's at its furthest point west from the sun as seen from Earth and visible in the morning sky in the East before sunrise. Inferior conjunction occurs when the inner planet is between the Sun and the Earth. Superior conjunction occurs when the inner planet is on the other side of the Sun as seen from Earth.
 
From our Northerly latitudes, the ecliptic, along which the planets move, lies at a very shallow angle to the horizon after sunset in the autumn and before sunrise in the spring. This means that any of the planets will be difficult to see when fairly close to the Sun in the evening sky in the autumn or in the morning sky in the spring. In particular, Mercury is more or less invisible from here when at Eastern elongation in the autumn or at Western elongation in the spring, because it lies so close to the horizon and is never above the horizon except in daylight or bright twilight.
 
The normal cycle for an inner planet is Superior Conjunction - Greatest Eastern Elongation - Inferior Conjunction - Greatest Western Elongation - Superior Conjunction. After superior conjunction, the planet moves away from the Sun as seen from Earth and becomes visible in the evening sky after a period of time. It then moves past the point of Greatest Eastern Elongation and moves back towards the Sun as seen from Earth until a point when it is not visible and at Inferior Conjunction. After this the planet appears in the morning sky for a time, before again slipping into the Sun's glare as seen from Earth. The duration of this cycle will depend on the planet's closeness to the Sun, i.e. Mercury completes the above cycle in around 4 months.
 
The Outer Planets
 
These are best seen when at opposition and are not visible when at conjunction. Opposition occurs when the earth is between the sun and the outer planet. It is the best time to observe them because the planet is visible all through the night and it is due South and at its highest at about midnight. The planet is also at its closest point in its orbit to Earth - making it appear brighter. Conjunction occurs when the outer planet is on the other side of the Sun as seen from Earth.
 
If the planet is at or near it furthest point South along the ecliptic, then it won't get very high in the sky even at opposition - just as the Sun never gets high in the sky in midwinter. This happens when opposition occurs near midsummer when the planet is opposite the Sun in the sky and in midsummer the Sun is high, so the planet will be low. The opposite of course applies in winter.
 
The normal cycle for an outer planet is Conjunction - Western Quadrature - Opposition - Eastern Quadrature - Conjunction. After conjunction, the planet moves away from the Sun as seen from Earth and becomes visible again. The planet from this point on rises earlier and earlier in the morning sky and eventually becomes visible in the evening sky. At Western Quadrature it is at its highest at sunrise and by opposition it is in the same position by midnight. By Eastern Quadrature, it is past its best and is at its highest at sunset, meaning it is rising in daytime and setting earlier and earlier until a point when it sets too close to the Sun as seen from Earth and is no longer visible. The duration of this cycle will depend on the planet's closeness to the Sun, i.e. Jupiter completes the above cycle in around 13-14 months.