In this image from 2019, citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created this image using data from NASA’s Juno Mission's JunoCam imager. Juno observed this vortex in one of Jupiter’s many persistent cloud bands, formed by the prevailing winds at different latitudes. The vortex seen here is roughly 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill
Planets, Meteors and More in August’s Night Sky
BY JONATHAN TRUAX, ASTRONOMER, MUSKEGON COMMUNITY COLLEGE'S CARR-FLES PLANETARIUM
This month, clear skies are frequent and darkness comes earlier than last month. Determined sky watchers can view four naked eye planets in the August sky, enjoy a meteor shower, and see the Milky Way if you observe away from the city lights.
In the southeastern sky about three hours after sunset, look for the planets Jupiter and Saturn rising. The brighter of the two planets is Jupiter. Look for a brilliant white “star” shining among the stars of Pisces. Saturn is dimmer and more yellow to the right of or west of Jupiter. By dawn the planets can be found setting in the southwestern sky. The waning gibbous moon is very close to Jupiter and Saturn the nights of August 13 through 16.
The planet Mars rises nearly due east around midnight this month. Look for an orange-red star similar in brightness to Saturn just to the west or right of the Pleiades star cluster of Taurus. The waning moon is very near Mars the mornings of August 19 and 20.
Sky watchers observing just before sunrise can spot the brilliant planet Venus low in the east about 40 minutes before sunrise. Currently, Venus shines among the stars of Cancer the Crab. Look for a super bright yellow-white star near the horizon. The waning crescent moon is near Venus the mornings of August 24 and 25.
The month of August bears witness to this year’s best meteor shower. The Perseid Meteor Shower reaches peak activity the mornings of August 12 and 13. On those mornings, sky watchers normally can expect to see up to 60 meteors per hour radiating outward from the northeast constellation of Perseus. This year the moon presents a problem, as the moon is Full and very bright. So expect a lower than average count for the meteor shower if skies are clear. Meteors can be seen sunset to dawn starting on the night of the 11th. But the highest activity will be during the predawn hours of the 12th and 13th.
As darkness falls after sunset this month, high in the northwest, locate the “Big Dipper” formed by the stars of Ursa Major. High in the western sky, locate Arcturus of Bootes, the brightest star of summer. High in the Eastern sky, nearly overhead, locate three bright stars all blue or white in color, forming the “Summer Triangle.”
Low and to the northeast is Deneb, of Cygnus the Swan. Higher in the east is Vega, of Lyra the Harp. Furthest south of the trio is Altair, of Aquila the Eagle. By dawn the “Summer Triangle” can be found low in the west.
Low in the northeast, the “W” shaped pattern of stars forming Cassiopeia is rising. Low in the southern sky, look for the red supergiant star Antares of Scorpius the Scorpion. The waxing gibbous moon is very close to Antares the night of the 7th.
This month after sunset, the summer Milky Way stretches from low in the south, then toward the eastern sky, down to the northeast horizon. For the best views of the Milky Way, observe away from city lights, and on the nights between August 21 and 31, when the moon is not bright in the evening sky.
This month as dawn twilight begins, look high in the east to locate the bright orange star Aldebaran of Taurus, one of the brightest stars of winter. Nearly overhead is the Pleiades star cluster. The waning moon will be near the cluster the mornings of August 20 and 21. Low near the eastern horizon, observers can locate the winter constellations of Orion, Gemini, and Canis Major just rising.
The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium is now open for private shows. Public shows will begin again August 22. Visit the MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium website for upcoming events and call (231) 777-0289 for sky show information. Carr-Fles Planetarium is located on the Muskegon Community College campus in Room 135. Thanks to the generosity of the Reach for the Stars campaign donors, you can now experience Carr-Fles Planetarium with state-of-the-art digital projection, sound and lighting systems; all-new library of shows; and modern theater seating and domed ceiling.