Current Night Sky

MANITOBA SKIES – August 2019

Contributed by Austin Valentin, Science Communicator

Dr. Maria Mitchell, astronomer and pioneer of womens’ rights.

This month we celebrate the enormous contributions Maria Mitchell made to the study of astronomy, and her sacrifices made for women in science. See the entry for August 1 later in the calendar.

August 2019 Sky Events

August 1st: Birthday of Maria Mitchell, he first professional female astronomer in the United States. She was the first female Astronomy Professor, and was an advocate for science and math education for young girls. On October 1st, 1847 at the very young age of 29, Mitchell discovered a comet using a two-inch telescope. This comet was ultimately named “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”, and she was awarded a gold medal from the King of Denmark, and became the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences the following year. Mitchell made many scientific contributions to the U.S. Government, and became heavily involved in the anti-slavery and suffrage movements. In the later years of her career, she worked with a twelve-inch telescope at Vassar College in New York, and specialized in studying the planetary surfaces of Jupiter and Saturn.

August 1st: The Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible. When the Moon is not visible, we call this the New Moon. This is a wonderful opportunity for star gazing, as when the Moon is visible, it reflects enough light from the Sun to make sky observations difficult. When the Moon is in its New Moon phase, the sky is nice and dark, making it a wonderful time to observe faint objects such as galaxies or star clusters.

August 9th: Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, will reach its greatest western elongation. If you are an early riser, August 9th will be the best time to observe Mercury as it will reach its highest point in the eastern sky in the morning, just before sunrise. Although August 9th is the best morning to view Mercury, it will be visible in the very early hours of the morning for most of the month. Mercury will be one of the only bright objects in the eastern sky before the sun rises.

August 12th – 13th: One of the most exciting sky events that occur in the summer is the Perseid Meteor Shower, where up to 60 meteors are visible every hour during its peak on August 12th – 13th. A meteor shower occurs when the Earth is traveling through a crowded part of its orbit. All of the small pieces of dust and rock in the Earth’s path will burn-up in the atmosphere, leaving a streak of light behind it. This streak of light creates what we know as a “shooting star” or meteor shower when we see multiple “shooting stars” at a time. Unfortunately during the peak of the meteor shower, the Moon will almost be full, making it difficult to view some of the dimmer meteors. August 12th and 13th are luckily not the only days this meteor shower is viewable. The meteor shower begins on July 17th, with a low rate of visible meteors, and then grows to the peak rate on August 12. It will then decrease again, with fewer meteors visible each night until  August 24th.

A time-lapse of the Perseid meteor shower. (Image credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

August 12th: While you are out watching the Perseid meteor shower on the evening of August 12th, you also have the opportunity to observe the planet Saturn in the southern sky. Planets are sometimes difficult to differentiate from regular stars, but on August 12th Saturn will be at its closest to the Moon, making it slightly easier to find. Jupiter will also be visible in the south-eastern sky, being one of the brighter objects in the night time sky. Saturn and Jupiter will both be visible in the night time sky for most of the month, traveling from the east to the southwestern sky as the night progresses.

August 15th: The Moon will be on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun bringing it to its Full Moon phase. The entire face of the Moon will be visible, and this will be the best night in August to pull out your telescope or binoculars and make an evening of observing our celestial neighbour.

August 30th: We will begin to close our month as we began, with the Moon being on the same side of the Earth as the Sun, and it will not be visible. This means the sky will be nice and dark, and it will be a great time to observe any galaxies or star clusters. It is also a wonderful time to observe Saturn or Jupiter in the southeastern – southwestern sky.