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A Guide to the Night Sky: August 2016

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A Guide to the Night Sky
August 2016 

By Tre Gibbs, LAAS

August. Days are getting shorter, nights are getting longer as Earth continues it’s 365 day journey around the sun, our nearest star.

The planet Jupiter, named after the Roman King of the Gods, is slowly heading into the glare of the sun, which is why it appears low in the west at sunset. Mars also appears to be heading west – but, like Jupiter, it actually isn’t. As Earth spins on its axis, everything in the sky appears to move westward. But if you could stop Earth from spinning, you may notice that the moon and planets are actually moving eastward. You can detect this eastward motion if you use the background stars as markers.

This eastward motion of celestial objects becomes especially apparent this month. Mars – the God of War, appears to slip past Saturn – the God of Agriculture, as they both continue their respective orbits around the sun.

Early in the month, look for Mars in the SSW, slightly less than halfway up the sky. It will be bright, and have a slight peachy-golden color, due to it’s surface covered in rust. To the left of Mars (and slightly higher), will be Saturn, which unfortunately appears as almost just another star since it’s so far away from us. Every evening, Mars will appear to be inching eastward, closer to Saturn. On the evening of the 23rd, Mars will appear directly below Saturn. By month’s end, Mars will have slipped further east of Saturn, appearing below and to the left of the ringed, gas giant.

NOTE: Thursday evening, August 11th, will be particularly interesting. Weather permitting, look for the moon above Mars and to the right of Saturn, as the three objects create a triangular shape known as a “conjunction” (a conjunction is when two or more celestial objects group together in the night sky). You can also detect the moon’s eastward movement by it’s approach and departure from Mars & Saturn on the evenings prior to, and after, the 11th.

Have a great rest of your summer – and get ready for the return of Venus in our Autumn evening skies!