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August skies of the Gulf Coast

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EAAA
“Pillars of Creation”, captured here by the EAAA’s Rod Bell.

For August 2022, the first quarter moon occurs on August 5. The famed Perseid meteor shower is dimmed this year by the full moon, the Thunder Moon, occurring on August 11, the day before the shower’s peak the next morning. The moon lies four degrees south of Saturn the same evening. Saturn is at opposition, rising at sunset, only three days later. On August 15, the waning gibbous moon passes two degrees south of Jupiter in the dawn. The moon is last quarter on August 19th, and lies three degrees north of red Mars. The waning crescent lies just above Venus dust before dawn on August 25. It is new on August 27.

For a detailed map of northern hemisphere skies, visit Skymaps.com.

Mercury is too close to sun for viewing this month until the end of August, when the axing crescent passes seven degrees north of it on August 29. Venus is about to be lost in the Sun’s glare at superior conjunction for several months, and appears just before the dawn, getting lower and lower each morning. Mars is in the dawn in Taurus, and gets brighter as the earth is overtaking it and closing in on it. Jupiter is Pisces, rising about two hours after sunset by month’s end, and will reach opposition in September, back in the evening sky for the rest of 2022. Saturn reaches opposition on August 14th, closest to earth and brightest in the evening sky.

The Big Dipper rides high in the northwest at sunset, but falls lower each evening. Good scouts know to take its leading pointers north to Polaris, the famed Pole Star. For us, it sits 30 degrees (our latitude) high in the north, while the rotating earth beneath makes all the other celestial bodies spin around it from east to west.

Taking the arc in the Dipper’s handle, we “arc” southeast to bright orange Arcturus, the brightest star of Spring. Cooler than our yellow Sun, and much poorer in heavy elements, some believe its strange motion reveals it to be an invading star from another smaller galaxy, now colliding with the Milky Way in Sagittarius in the summer sky. Moving almost perpendicular to the plane of our Milky Way, Arcturus was the first star in the sky where its proper motion across the historic sky was noted, by Edmund Halley.

Spike south to Spica, the hot blue star in Virgo. From Spica curve to Corvus the Crow, a four sided grouping. It is above Corvus, in the arms of Virgo, where our large scopes will show members of the Virgo Supercluster, a swarm of over a thousand galaxies about 50 million light years away from us.

Hercules is overhead, with the nice globular cluster M-13 marked on your sky map and visible in binoculars. The brightest star of the northern hemisphere, Vega dominates the northeast sky.

To the south is the southernmost member of the Triangle, Altair, the brightest star of Aquila the Eagle. If you scan the Milky Way with binoculars or a small spotting scope between Altair and Deneb, you will find many nice open star clusters and also a lot of dark nebulae, the dust clouds from which new stars will be born in the future.

To the southeast, Antares is bright in the heart of Scorpius. It appears reddish (its Greek name means rival of Ares or Mars to the Latins) because it is half as hot as our yellow Sun. It is bright because it is a bloated red supergiant, big enough to swallow up our solar system all the way out to Saturn’s orbit! Just above the tail of the Scorpion are two fine naked eye star clusters, M-7 (discovered by Ptolemy and included in his catalog about 200 AD) and M-6, making one of the best binocular views in the sky.

East of the Scorpion’s tail is the teapot shape of Sagittarius, which marks the heart of our Milky Way galaxy. Looking like a cloud of steam coming out of the teapot’s spout is the fine Lagoon Nebula, M-8, easily visible with the naked eye. Above it is the Trifid Nebula, M-20, another fine and very colorful stellar nursery. Just east of these young star birthplaces is the fine globular cluster M-22, faintly visible to the naked eye and spectacularly resolved in scopes of 8” or larger aperture. Look just east of the top star in the teapot of Sagittarius with binoculars.

The Escambia Amateur Astronomers return to Casino Beach for our Pavilion Stargaze Season on the first quarter moon. Meet us south of the famed Beach Ball Water Tower and bring your smart phone to image the Sun (before sunset with our solar scopes), Moon, and constellations. We have free star charts and will show you what’s up. The gazes, if clear skies permit, will be on the Fridays and Saturdays for these weekends: August 5-6, September 2-3, and the last on September 30 and October 1.

For deep skies with much less light pollution, on the weekends of the third quarter moon we continue our cooperation with the Florida State Parks at Big Lagoon State Park. Here the emphasis is on learning to observe and photograph the night sky with binoculars or your own telescopes and smartphones or other cameras. While the Pavilion parking is free, normal entry fees to Big Lagoon still apply, and remember to check in the front gate before it closes at sunset! We certainly encourage the many campers and scout troops to join us at our site, at the north end of the boat ramp access road. Our gazes for best imaging of the Milky Way, constellations, and other galaxies are on these weekends: August 19-20, September 16-17, and October 14-15. Clear skies permitting.

For Okaloosa and Walton Counties, the Northwest Florida Amateur Astronomers will also host public gazes this summer at a variety of venues: Eden State Gardens in Point Washington September 16; Henderson Beach on October 14, and final gaze for 2022 will be at Topsail on November 11.

For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers, join us on Facebook.

Dr. John Wayne Wooten has been teaching science since 1970, with a special concentration on astronomy. He received his Doctor of Education in Astronomy from University of Florida in 1979. He was an educator at Pensacola State College since 1974 and University of West Florida since 1984 before retiring in 2017. He still continues to teach distance learning astronomy for Tennessee colleges.