Composite image of the Ring Nebula by NASA

Minnesota Skies: August 2019

Your local guide to observing celestial objects and events

Published07/31/2019 , by Parke Kunkle & Thaddeus LaCoursiere

Jupiter still shines brightly in the August evening sky, visible at dusk and setting about 2 am. Saturn glows more dimly about 30 degrees left of Jupiter. While you are out stargazing, see if you can find two horses in the constellations…

No? Maybe that is because one, Sagittarius, in mythology is half man, half horse and the other, Pegasus, is an upside down half of a flying horse. Around 10 pm, Pegasus takes wing in the eastern sky (looking more like a baseball diamond) while Sagittarius (looking more like a teapot) shines above the southern horizon. Saturn gleams just left of the teapot making the teapot shape more difficult to recognize. Scorpius, with bright Antares as its heart, resides to the right of Sagittarius.

Perseid Meteor Shower

August 12–13 is the peak of the Perseids. Unfortunately, this year the full moon will interfere with your ability to see many meteors. However, if you can get away from city and suburban lights a week or so before, you can look to the early morning skies to see a few “shooting stars.” For the best viewing, find the darkest skies you can, look up, and wait.

Featured image: Ring Nebula

This planetary nebula’s simple, graceful appearance is thought to be due to perspective: our view from Earth looking straight into what is actually a barrel-shaped cloud of gas shrugged off by a dying central star. Hot blue gas near the energizing central star gives way to progressively cooler green and yellow gas at greater distances with the coolest red gas along the outer boundary. Credit: NASA.

There’s so much more to see! Read more about the Ring Nebula in the Deep Sky Objects section below, and use our Minnesota Skies sky map to help guide your summer sky watching!

Sky-lights

August

Highlight

Comments

5 Spica below left of Moon 10 pm, Low WNW
9 Jupiter 2 degrees below right of Moon with reddish Antares below right of Jupiter 10 pm, SSW
11 Saturn 3 degrees left of Moon 10 pm, S
12-13 Peak of Perseid meteor shower 2 – 5 pm
Nearly full Moon interferes
24 Aldebaran 2 degrees below right of crescent Moon 2 – 5:30 am

Resources

When viewing planets, stars or other objects in the night sky, it is helpful to use a sky map. You can download our Minnesota Skies guide or customize your own map on stellarium-web.org. Minnesota Starwatch is another great resource. Meet up with other stargazing enthusiasts via Twin Cities Sidewalk Astronomers, MN Astronomical Society & MN Institute for Astrophysics.


Lunar Highlights

August 7—First Quarter Moon
The Moon is one quarter of its way through its orbit around
the Earth, which makes half the Moon illuminated and half
dark from our perspective.

August 15—Full Moon
The Moon is located on the opposite side of the Earth as the
Sun and the side we see is fully illuminated.

August 23—Last Quarter Moon
This phase occurs when the Moon is three-quarters of the
way through its orbit around the Earth.

August 30—New Moon
The Moon is located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun
and is not visible in the night sky. This is the best time of the
month to observe faint objects like galaxies and star clusters
because there is no moonlight to interfere.

 

Deep Sky Objects

Messier 57 (Ring Nebula)
Observing method: Binoculars, telescope
Constellation: Lyra

This planetary nebula, the expanded shell of a dead star, is 2,300 light years away. Originally, it was similar to our Sun—average size, yellow/white. As it reached the end of its life it didn’t have enough mass to explode in a supernova. Instead, the inner core collapsed and the remaining energy pushed out, forming a shell of cool expanding gas surrounding a white dwarf glowing at 180,000 °F (100,000 °C)!

Messier 15
Observing method: Binoculars, telescope
Constellation: Pegasus

Globular clusters are common. There are more than 150 orbiting around the Milky Way, and the Andromeda Galaxy might have as many as 500! But each cluster is unique, and the Milky Way’s Messier 15 is an estimated 12 billion years old, making it one of the oldest on record. It also has the first planetary nebula (Pease 1) discovered in a globular cluster (only three others have been found since that discovery in 1928).