Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of August 2021
M30 (NGC 7099) was discovered by Charles Messier in 1764. It is located roughly 28,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Capricornus. It has an apparent magnitude of 7.7 and can be seen through a pair of binoculars. This Hubble image of M30 is composed of exposures taken in visible and infrared light. It captures the cluster’s several hundred thousand stars in stunning detail. Although globular clusters such as M30 are mainly populated by old stars, the density of the stellar swarm leads to some old stars apparently reclaiming their youth as “blue stragglers.” Using observations from Hubble, astronomers have identified two types of blue stragglers in M30 -- those that form in near head-on collisions between two stars and those that are in binary systems where one star siphons hydrogen from its companion. [Video and Content Credits: NASA, JPL – Caltech, and the Office of Public Outreach – STScI] [Image Credit: NASA, ESA]
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of August 2021
Welcome to the night sky report for August 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In August, a flock of star-studded figures soars overhead. Look for the constellation Lyra, shaped as a small parallelogram, 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. Find a dark location to enjoy the Perseid meteors on August 11 and then check out Jupiter and Saturn all night long all month. The full moon on August 22nd is what's known as a "seasonal blue moon," as it's the third full moon out of four this season, where normally in each season there are only three. This happens every two-and-a-half to three years or as they say, "once in a blue moon." 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 soars 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 a 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 nebulas that glide through the late summer night.
August brings the best-known meteor shower of the year, the Perseids. This annual meteor shower happens each year as Earth crosses the debris trail of comet Swift-Tuttle. Most of these meteors are grains of dust up to the size of a pea and they create fabulous "shooting stars" as they burn up in Earth's atmosphere.
Although Perseids can be seen from mid-July through late August, the most likely time to see any is a couple of days on either side of the peak. This year the peak falls on the night of August 11th, and into the pre-dawn hours of August 12th. Under really dark skies, you could see almost one per minute near the time of maximum activity.
This year's peak night for the Perseids also benefits from a Moon that sets early in the evening, so it won't interfere with the fainter meteors. But before it sets that evening, be sure to check out the gorgeous crescent Moon in the west after sunset with the brilliant planet Venus.
To enjoy the Perseid meteor shower, find a safe, dark location away from bright city lights. Lie down or recline with your feet facing roughly toward the north and look up. The meteors appear to radiate from around the constellation Perseus, but they can streak across the sky anywhere above you.
August is the best time this year to enjoy viewing Jupiter and Saturn, as both planets reach opposition this month. "Opposition" is the term for when a planet is on the same side of the Solar System as Earth and directly opposite from the Sun. It happens each year as Earth loops around in its orbit, passing by the much slower-moving gas giant planets.
Around this time, the planet is visible from sunset to sunrise, and reaches its highest point in the sky around midnight. Opposition is also near the time Earth is closest to the planet, so this is when the planet tends to look its biggest and brightest.
Opposition does technically have a precise date when the Sun, Earth, and the planet line up. For Saturn opposition takes place this year on August 2nd. And for Jupiter, it's on August 19th.
As you're enjoying Jupiter and Saturn during August, watch as the increasingly full Moon slides beneath the pair of planets over several days from the 19th to the 22nd.
Plus, the full moon on August 22nd is what's known as a "seasonal blue moon," as it's the third full moon out of four this season, where normally in each season there are only three. This happens every two-and-a-half to three years or as they say, "once in a blue moon."
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 6625 Open Cluster P196
NGC 6631 Open Cluster P251
NGC 6649 Open Cluster P197
NGC 6664 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H12-8
NGC 6694 Open Cluster M26
NGC 6704 Open Cluster P198
NGC 6705 Open Cluster M11 Wild Duck Cluster
NGC 6712 Globular Cluster Herschel 400 H47-1
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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