ASTRONOMY: The Sky Above You – August 2018

By Duncan Lunan

August 2018 map Astronomy Duncan LunanThe Moon will be New on August 11th, with a partial solar eclipse visible from the north of Scotland, beginning at 9.30 a.m. (BST), and ending at 10.00 a.m. in Thurso, 10.13 at Lerwick in Shetland.   The Moon is Full on August 26th.

The planet Mercury is at inferior conjunction on this side of the Sun on August 9th,returns to the morning sky around August 21stand will grow higher and brighter to its greatest elongation from the Sun on the 26th, remaining visible till the end of the month.

Though growing lower in the evening sky, Venus reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun in Virgo on August 17th, after appearing near the Moon on August 14th.

Mars in Capricornus sets around 3 a.m., still very bright although growing fainter as the Earth draws ahead of it after last month’s close approach.   On the 28th it will come to its ‘stationary point’ before resuming its former eastward movement in the sky.   Mars appears near the Moon on August 23rd.   After more than 14 years of successful operations on Mars the solar-powered Opportunity rover was forced by a dust storm to shut down in June, and it remains to be seen whether it can be revived.   The larger Curiosity rover is nuclear-powered and much less affected.

Japan’s Hyabusa 2 probe reached the asteroid Ryugu in July, and NASA’s OSIRIS-REX is expected to reach asteroid Bennu in August.   Both will attempt to return samples to Earth, Hyabusa 2 in 2020 and OSIRIS-REX in 2023.

Jupiter in Libra now sets around 11 p.m., and appears near the Moon on the 17th.  NASA’s Juno mission over the poles of Jupiter was scheduled to end in February this year, but was extended to July because the orbit couldn’t be lowered as planned.   The mission has now been extended for a further three years, to July 2021 at least.

Saturn remains low in Sagittarius and is passed by the Moon on August 21st .   The rings are still close to their maximum angle with respect to us.

Uranus in Aries rises about 10.30 p.m., near the Moon on the 4th.

Neptune in Aquarius rises about 9 p.m., and is nearest to the Moon on the 27th.

The Perseid meteor shower is expected to peak on the night of August 12-13th, but meteors emanating from the constellation may be seen for several weeks to either side of the peak.   This year the peak comes soon after New Moon, so the meteors should be well seen, especially after 1 a.m. as our side of the Earth turns towards the oncoming shower of dust particles  (coming from Comet Swift-Tuttle, the Great Comet of 1862, which last returned in 1992).

The next meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club will be on Thursday August 30th, from 7.15 to 9 p.m. at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG.   June’s meeting had to be postponed due to circumstances beyond our control, but guest speaker Laura Thomas has agreed to come back in November.   On August 30th the speaker will be Prof. Arjun Berera from Edinburgh talking about ‘Panspermia’, particularly the possibility that life could be carried from one world to another by meteorites.

About Duncan Lunan

“Starfield, science fiction by Scottish writers”, edited by Duncan Lunan, is now available from the publishers at Shoreline Infinity.

Duncan’s recent books “Children from the Sky”, “The Stones and the Stars”, “Incoming Asteroid!” and “The Elements of Time” are available from the publishers, on Amazon or through booksellers;  details are on Duncan’s website: Duncan Lunan

August 2018 map Astronomy Duncan Lunan

This column’s monthly star maps can be used for any latitude down to about 40 degrees north, and for that reason among others they show the night sky for 9 p.m.  (GMT/UT), even though the Sun is still up at that time during the summer months in Scotland.   The star patterns are the same for each month of each year, and only the positions of the planets change.

To use the maps, you should hold them overhead, aligning the North edge to true north, marked by Polaris and indicated by Dubhe and Merak, the Pointers.   It’s more practical to hold the map in front of you when looking south and then rotate it as you face east, north and west.   Some readers are confused because east is on the left, opposite to terrestrial maps, but that’s because they’re the other way up – looking up at the sky, not down at the Earth.   When you’re facing south and looking at the sky, east is on your left.

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