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Wayne Wooten: August Skies Of The Gulf Coast

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Kay Forrest
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For August 2019, the first quarter moon is on August 7.  The waxing gibbous moon passes two degrees north of Jupiter on August 9.  On the morning of Aug. 12, the moon will occult (cover) Saturn, but only for observers west of us. 

When they set about 3 a.m. locally, the moon will still be to the lower right of Saturn. If you are still up then, you will see the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, coming out of Perseus, almost overhead then. After moonset, you may get about a meteor a minute before dawn comes.  The full moon, the Green Corn Moon, will be on August 15.  The last quarter moon will be on August 23, and the moon will be new on August 30.

While the naked eye, dark adapted by several minutes away from any bright lights, is a wonderful instrument to stare up into deep space, far beyond our own Milky Way, binoculars are better for spotting specific deep sky objects.  For a detailed map of northern hemisphere skies, visit the Sky Maps website. Sky & Telescope has highlights for observing the sky each week of the month.

Mercury, Venus, and Mars are all too close to the sun for good viewing in August. Jupiter is still well placed for viewing in the southwest in Ophiuchus at sunset, just north of Antares in Scorpius.  The Great Red Spot is easy to spot with small telescope, as are the four larger moons.  Much more distant, fainter Saturn is in eastern Sagittarius, in the south at sunset.   Enjoy the rings, now 24 degrees open and tilted toward Earth and sun.  Look closer and you may see its huge moon Titan, the most Earth-like surface geology elsewhere in the solar system!

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Credit Linda Gough Johnson
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A shot of the southern Milky Way above Fort Pickens.

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 binocs.  It is faintly visible with the naked eye under dark sky conditions, and among the best binocular objects on the SkyMap.

The brightest star of the northern hemisphere, Vega dominates the northeast sky.  Binoculars reveal the small star just to the northeast of Vega, epsilon Lyrae, as a nice double.  Larger telescopes at 150X reveal each of this pair is another close double, hence its nickname, the “double double”…a fine sight under steady sky conditions.

Below Vega are the two bright stars of the Summer Triangle; Deneb is at the top of the Northern Cross, known as Cygnus the Swan to the Romans.  It is one of the most luminous stars in our Galaxy, about 50,000 times brighter than our Sun.  To the south is Altair, the brightest star of Aquila the Eagle.  If you scan the Milky Way with binocs 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.  Your binoculars are ideally suited to reveal many fine open star clusters and nebulae in this region of our Galaxy. 

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.  In the same binocular field just north of the Lagoon is M-20, the Trifid Nebula. Just east of the pair is the fine globular cluster M-22, faintly visible to the naked eye and spectacularly resolved in scopes of 8-inches or larger aperture. Look just east of the top star in the teapot of Sagittarius with binoculars.

Events:

Stargazing at Big Lagoon State Park: Sunset, Aug. 24, Sept. 21 and Oct. 19. Gazes located at east parking lot near the observation tower.

Stargazing at Fort Pickens: Sunset, Aug. 30 and Sept. 27. Arrive early before the park gate closes at sunset. Gaze is free, but there is park entrance fee.

Stargazing at Pensacola Beach Sunset Aug. 9 & 10. Gulfside Pavilion at Pensacola Beach.

For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers, visit eaaa.net or join the Escambia Amateur Astronomers Facebook group, or call Lauren Rogers at Pensacola State College at 484-1155, or e-mail her at  lrogers@pensacolastate.edu.  

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. He and his wife, Merry, have been married since 1980 and they have two sons, Michael and Trevor.