Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of August 2019
The Ring Nebula (NGC 6720, M57) has a distinctive shape that makes it a popular illustration for astronomy books. But new observations by the Hubble Space Telescope of the glowing gas shroud around an old, dying, sun-like star reveal a new twist -- The nebula is not like a bagel, but rather like a jelly doughnut, because it is filled with material in the middle. The Ring Nebula is about 2000 light-years from Earth and measures roughly 1 light-year across. Located in the constellation Lyra, the nebula is a popular target for amateur astronomers. The nebula is tilted toward Earth so that astronomers see the ring face-on. In the Hubble image, the blue structure is the glow of helium. Radiation from the white dwarf star, the white dot in the center of the ring, is exciting the helium to glow. The white dwarf is the stellar remnant of a sun-like star that has exhausted its hydrogen fuel and has shed its outer layers of gas to gravitationally collapse to a compact object. In this composite image, visible light observations by the Hubble Space Telescope are combined with infrared data from the ground-based Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona to assemble a dramatic view of this beautiful Planetary Nebula. (Credits: NASA, JPL – Caltech, and the Office of Public Outreach – STScI) (Image Credit: NASA, ESA).
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of August 2019
Welcome to the night sky report for August 2019 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In August, look for the constellation Lyra, which points to Epsilon Lyrae and the Ring Nebula. You can also spot three bright summer stars: Vega, Deneb, and Altair, which form the Summer Triangle. This month, the main focus for meteor watchers is the Perseid meteor shower, but you will have to contend with a bright Moon on the peak nights. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Warm August nights offer fine opportunities for stargazing, as a flock of star-studded figures soar overhead.
In the southeast lies Vega, one of the brightest stars in the sky. The Greeks made Vega the anchor of the small constellation Lyra, the lyre of Orpheus. Lyra’s main pattern is a small parallelogram that marks the strings of the instrument.
Alongside Lyra sits Epsilon Lyrae, also known as the Double Double, a point of light consisting of two orbiting pairs of white stars. Between the bottom two stars of the parallelogram is the Ring Nebula. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reveals stunning details of this planetary nebula, a glowing shell of gas expelled by a dying star. The remnant core of the star—now a small, hot white dwarf—sits in the center of the shell, providing radiant energy that makes the gas glow. Our own sun may end its life this way in about 6 billion years.
To the east of Lyra we find a second bright star: Deneb, a distant blue-white supergiant. Deneb marks the tail of Cygnus the swan. Marking the head of Cygnus is Albireo, a showpiece double star for small telescopes.
Just south of the head of Cygnus lies a small pattern called Vulpecula, the fox. Vulpecula hosts the Dumbbell Nebula, another planetary nebula. The Spitzer Space Telescope’s infrared view shows the expanding cloud of gas heated by the central remnant star—now a white dwarf. Astronomers think that the dumbbell shape of this nebula could be caused by the presence of a second star at the center. Eventually the expelled gas of the nebula will dissipate into surrounding space, leaving only the white dwarf and its possible companion behind.
To the south of Lyra and Cygnus lies another bright star of summer: Altair. Altair marks the neck of Aquila the eagle. Just off the end of Aquila’s outstretched tail lies an open star cluster. Known as the Wild Duck Cluster, early observers thought it resembled a flock of ducks flying in a roughly V-shaped formation.
Taken together, the three bright summer stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair form the Summer Triangle. Use the Summer Triangle as a guide to the stars and nebulae that glide through the late summer night.
This month, the main focus for meteor watchers is the Perseid meteor shower. The best known meteors of the year, the Perseids, are back, but will have to contend with a bright Moon on the peak nights. Still, you could see a dozen or more meteors per hour, including the occasional very bright meteor, also called a fireball.
The meteors in this shower are particles left behind in the debris trail of a comet called Swift-Tuttle. This 16-mile-wide, icy dustball orbits the Sun every 133 years. It last swept through the inner solar system in 1992 and will return in the year 2126.
Earth passes through part of this trail of debris every year, creating the meteor shower as tiny pieces of comet debris collide with our atmosphere and burn up.
The best viewing this year will be on the mornings of August 12th and 13th, in the last couple of hours before dawn. The Moon will be nearly full during this time, so you'll have a better chance to see meteors when the Moon is low in the west, or the brief period after it sets.
For the best meteor watching, face toward the east and look up. The Perseids generally appear to radiate from a point here, a bit to the left of the Pleiades star cluster, but they can appear pretty much anywhere on the sky.
It's important to find a spot away from bright lights and give your eyes a little time to adjust to the darkness. Try to avoid looking at your bright phone screen too. You'll see more meteors that way.
And although you're more likely to see meteors at the shower's peak, you should also be able to spot a few any night the week before. Just know that the Moon's brightness will wash out most of the fainter Perseids this year.
In planet spotting, this month the Moon pairs up with Jupiter in the evening sky of August 9th. It then visits with Saturn on August 11th.
The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard.
The following Deep Sky Objects are found in constellations that peak during the month. Some can be viewed with a small telescope, but the majority will require a moderate to large telescope. The following is adapted from my personal viewing list: "The Guy Pirro 777 Best and Brightest Deep Sky Objects."
NGC 6709 Open Cluster P1
NGC 6724 Open Cluster P205
NGC 6735 Open Cluster P206
NGC 6738 Open Cluster P18
NGC 6741 Planetary Nebula P207 Phantom Streak Nebula
NGC 6755 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H19-7
NGC 6756 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H62-7
NGC 6760 Globular Cluster P19
NGC 6781 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H743-3
NGC 6790 Planetary Nebula P208
NGC 6803 Planetary Nebula P209
NGC 6840 Open Cluster P124
NGC 6843 Open Cluster P125
NGC 7099 Globular Cluster M30
IC 1318 Diffuse Nebula P24 Gamma Cygni Nebula
IC 1369 Open Cluster P11
IC 4996 Open Cluster P16
IC 5067 Diffuse Nebula P79 Pelican Nebula
- IC 5070 Diffuse Nebula - Part of P79
IC 5117 Planetary Nebula P223
IC 5146 Open Cluster C19 Cocoon Nebular Cluster
NGC 6811 Open Cluster P10 Hole Cluster
NGC 6819 Open Cluster P12
NGC 6826 Planetary Nebula C15, Herschel 400 H73-4 Blinking Planetary Nebula
NGC 6834 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H16-8
NGC 6866 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H59-7
NGC 6871 Open Cluster P9
NGC 6874 Open Cluster P142
NGC 6883 Open Cluster P17
NGC 6888 Diffuse Nebula C27 Crescent Nebula
NGC 6910 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H56-8 Gamma Cygni Nebular Cluster
NGC 6913 Open Cluster M29
NGC 6914 Diffuse Nebula P143
NGC 6960 Diffuse Nebula C34 Veil Nebula (West)
NGC 6989 Open Cluster P144
NGC 6992 Diffuse Nebula C33 Veil Nebula (East)
- NGC 6995 Diffuse Nebula - Part of C33
NGC 6996 Open Cluster P224
NGC 6997 Open Cluster P145
NGC 7000 Diffuse Nebula C20, Herschel 400 H37-5 North America Nebula
NGC 7008 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H192-1
NGC 7024 Open Cluster P146
NGC 7026 Planetary Nebula P147
NGC 7027 Planetary Nebula P25
NGC 7031 Open Cluster P148
NGC 7037 Open Cluster P225
NGC 7039 Open Cluster P13
NGC 7044 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H24-6
NGC 7048 Planetary Nebula P226
NGC 7062 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H51-7
NGC 7063 Open Cluster P14
NGC 7067 Open Cluster P149
NGC 7071 Open Cluster P227
NGC 7082 Open Cluster P15
NGC 7086 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H32-6
NGC 7092 Open Cluster M39
NGC 7127 Open Cluster P150
NGC 7128 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H40-7
NGC 7175 Open Cluster P151
NGC 6891 Planetary Nebula P152
NGC 6905 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H16-4 Blue Flash Nebula
NGC 6934 Globular Cluster C47, Herschel 400 H103-1
NGC 7006 Globular Cluster C42, Herschel 400 H52-1
NGC 6720 Planetary Nebula M57 Ring Nebula
NGC 6779 Globular Cluster M56
NGC 6791 Open Cluster P162
IC 4997 Planetary Nebula P246
NGC 6838 Globular Cluster M71
NGC 6879 Planetary Nebula P181
NGC 6886 Planetary Nebula P247
NGC 6802 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H14-6 Coat Hanger Cluster
NGC 6823 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H18-7
NGC 6830 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H9-7
NGC 6853 Planetary Nebula M27 Dumbell Nebula
NGC 6882 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H22-8
NGC 6885 Open Cluster C37, Herschel 400 H20-8
NGC 6940 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H8-7
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