Current Night Sky

 MANITOBA SKIES – August 2018

Summertime is a wonderful time for stargazing,  as the evenings are warm and people tend to spend more time outdoors enjoying nature. As the summer progresses, days are slowly getting shorter, which are a good thing for stargazing as you don’t have to stay up as late in August as you did in July to see the dark sky. The August sky holds many awesome sights like bright Mars and the best-known meteor shower, the Perseids.

Planets - August 2018

As the August sun is setting you will be able to see the planet Jupiter low in the southwest, until it dips out of view after midnight.

The ringed giant Saturn will be visible all month in the constellation of Sagittarius, low in the southern sky.

Venus is also hanging around at the beginning of the month, but might be difficult to see depending on if you have tall trees or structures around, as it is just above the northwestern horizon here in Manitoba. By mid-August, Venus will have disappeared into the glare of the sun.

The real headliner of August planetary viewing is our nearest neighbour, the 4th rock to our 3rd rock from the Sun- Mars. Mars was at opposition on July 26 so it will remain visible all night throughout August, shinig as an amber star in the southeast at after sunset. Opposition is the point where the Earth is between the Sun and Mars so Mars is fully illuminated by the Sun. Oppositions of Mars occur every 26 months or so because of our different orbits as we travel around the sun, but each opposition is not the same. BBC’s Brian Cox explains it beautifully here.

Facing south, late evening in August. (Image credit: Stellarium)

You can find Mars in the southeast at sunset, moving into the south and eventually southwest before dawn. It will be highest in the sky after 1 a.m. at the beginning of August, and after 10:30 pm at the end of the month. The exciting thing about Mars’ visibility is, if you view it through a telescope (preferably at least 75x, up to 300x magnification), you actually have the possibility to view changes on the surface. You can see the southern polar ice cap as well as dust storms moving across the planet. Sky News magazine has great advice on how to view our rusty neighbour with a telescope. Scope or no scope, Mars is a "must see" for August.

If you shift your focus to the morning sky, you might catch a glimpse of Mercury at dawn. On August 26, our closest planet to the sun will be at its greatest western elongation, which is usually the time that it is easiest to see it. You'll probably need binoculars to spot it, only a few degrees above the eastern horizon before sunrise. NOTE: Don't observe with binoculars once the sun rises, or you risk accidentally looking at the sun and permanently damaging your eyesight!  If you miss seeing Mercury this time around, don't worry, you can catch it in December.

Sky Events- August 2018

Saturday, Aug. 4: Last Quarter Moon

Friday, Aug. 3 (evening): The monthly meeting of the Winnipeg Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada begins at 7:00 p.m. Details are here, and all are welcome. Come out and see Manitoba's largest astronomy club!

Tuesday, Aug. 7: Tanabata star festival celebrated in some regions of Japan (elsewhere July 7). Learn all about this festival’s origins in the Summer Triangle here.

Friday, Aug. 10: Moon is at perigee-point where it is closest to earth in its monthly cycle

Saturday, Aug. 11: New Moon. It's also time for the Saturdays in Space series of presentations in the Manitoba Museum's auditorium across from the Planetarium theatre. Today at 2 p.m., Danielle Pahud from the University of Manitoba explains the space weather that lnks the sun and earth in her presentation, "Strong Solar Winds with a Chance of Aurora". The presentation is free with admission to the Planetarium, Science Gallery, or Museum. See the event poster here: StrongSolarWindsAugust11

Sunday, Aug. 12 (evening) through Monday, Aug. 13 (morning): The annual Perseid Meteor shower peaks between midnight and dawn (see article here)

Saturday, Aug. 18: First Quarter Moon

Thursday, Aug.23: Moon is at apogee- furthest point from earth

Sunday, Aug. 26: Full Moon; Mercury at greatest western elongation in morning sky (see "Planets" above)

Other events of interest to sky watchers can be found in SkyNews magazine, the Canadian Magazine of Astronomy & Stargazing.

To spot the International Space Station as it passes over southern Manitoba, visit Heavens-Above.com which calculates times and directions for you.