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Sonoma County Gazette
Guide to the Night Sky

Guide to the Night Sky

Aug 2, 2018
by Tre Gibbs


Summer is in full swing - and the days continue to shorten as the sun’s path across the sky gradually drifts southward. As of now, a month and a half after The Summer Solstice, the northern hemisphere still has more daylight than darkness, but that will change September 22nd, as we experience this year’s Autumn Equinox. More on that next month.

As Earth speeds around our nearest star at roughly 67,000 mph, we will be treated to at least three, possibly four planets, depending on whether you have an unobstructed view of the western horizon or not. This is not an annual occurrence, it’s simply due to the way these particular planets are lined up relative to Earth, as each one, including us, has it’s own path (and speed) around the sun.

Early in August, during evening twilight, four planets appear (planets are brighter than stars, so they always appear first as the sky darkens). Venus, the brightest planet in the sky, is getting increasingly lower as she continues her journey around the sun. She appears low on the western horizon as the sky begins to darken. She won’t be there for very long though - as Earth continues it’s spin, Venus will set pretty quickly. Looking eastward, the mighty Jupiter (in the constellation Libra, The Scales) shines like a beacon high in the southwest. Continuing our gaze eastward, the next visible planet is Saturn. Saturn (in the constellation Sagittarius, The Archer) is a little tricky to spot - it’s so far way from us that it appears more like an average to bright, non twinkling star. Continuing eastward, look for Mars just above the southeastern horizon. Mars has a distinct orange-ish hue and is very bright, actually slightly brighter than Jupiter. As Earth continues to spin on her axis, all of these planets will appear to slowly and gradually drift across the sky all night long, eventually setting in the west prior to sunrise.

By month’s end, Earth will have traveled over 48 million miles in her orbit around the sun since August 1st. Because of this, Venus will appear so low on the western horizon, only people with an unobstructed view of the western horizon will be able to see it. Jupiter will have shifted further west - as will Saturn (now in the south at sunset) and Mars, higher in the southeast sky during late twilight. Remember that you can always use the Moon as a tool to find the planets, since they all travel the same path in the sky together. As the moon moves eastward in it’s monthly, or moonthly, orbit around Earth, it will travel the sky at some point with each planet…

• Tues, 8/14 - the moon will be just above (and slightly to the left) of Venus.

• Sat, 8/18 - look for the half moon slightly above and to the left of Jupiter.

• Tues, 8/21 - the moon, now more than half full, is to the right of Saturn.

• Thurs, 8/23 - the planet Mars travels the sky below the moon.

This month’s full moon is on August 26th, when “The Full Sturgeon Moon” rises in the east as the sun is setting in the west. The name comes from some Native American tribes realizing that the sturgeon of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were prime for catching during this particular full moon. Remember that the moon is in constant motion around our planet, rising almost an hour later every day/night. While only technically full for a moment (4:56 am on 8/26), the moon will appear full the night before as well as the night after.

So until next month, KEEP LOOKING UP !


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