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The casual observer

There is a partial solar eclipse on 11th August but it is only visible in the northern hemisphere, centred on the Arctic. This is the bracketing partial solar eclipse to the long total lunar eclipse on the morning of the 28th of July; the other partial solar eclipse occurred at the last new moon on the 13th July, which was only visible in the southern hemisphere. This event will finish the second eclipse season for 2018.

The Perseid meteor shower is active this month and you may hear about it in your social media feeds, but for most of us in southern Australia it’s just not visible. The further north you are (e.g., the Pilbara, Kimberley, Top End of the NT and Far North Queensland) the better the chance you have of seeing some, but even then it will be much less than what the northern hemisphere will see. If you would like to learn more about this shower and how to see it from Australia go to However, you should still keep an eye on the sky at any time, you never know when a big, bright sporadic meteor might streak through above you!

Phases of the Moon

Last Quarter

August 5

New Moon

August 11

First Quarter

August 18

Full Moon

August 26

Last Quarter

August 5

Dates of interest

  1. Moon below Jupiter, evening sky

    August 17

  2. Moon below Jupiter, evening sky

    August 21

  3. Moon to left of Mars, evening sky

    August 23

  4. Venus next Spica, brightest star in Virgo

    September 1

Planets to look for

Venus is still in the evening sky, but is now creeping its way southward as the months change and the angle of the ecliptic moves. If you are able to, compare its location from week to week with a tree or building to your west. The Moon does not pass particularly close to it this month, but right at the end of August it meets up with the bright star Spica, in Virgo.

Jupiter is now in the western part of the evening sky, starting the night high overhead as it gets dark. During the middle of August, from the 15th to 19th it will be next to alpha Librae, also known as the wonderfully named Zubenelgenubi, the brightest star in Libra. It marks the tip the Scales.

Saturn is still near the lid of the Teapot of Sagittarius. The Moon will be quite close to it on August 21st.  Mars is still bright, further to the east near Capricornus, but starting to fade now that it is past opposition. But it will still be well placed for viewing all through August – if the ongoing global dust storm settles! In fact, this very dust storm that is blurring the features on Mars is adding to its brightness right now, by helping to reflect more sunlight, so if you think it’s shining brighter than Jupiter at the moment, you are right – it is!

After joining the other planets for the evening spectacular in July, Mercury spends most of August in the Sun’s glare then makes a very poor morning apparition low in the ENE twilight during the last week of August. It’s really only for the keenest of Mercury chasers. It also spend most of September out of sight, too, but it will return for another good evening showing in late September.

Constellation of the month

Ophiuchus the Serpent Holder

Ophiuchus (Oh-few-kus) lies to the north of Scorpius and is a large constellation that is not always easy to make out. None of its stars are particularly bright but it does cover a large area of sky and part of the Milky Way runs through it.

Ophiuchus is said to represent the great healer Aesculapius from Greek mythology. He reputably knew the secret of how to raise people from the dead, knowledge he gained after watching one snake heal another, and that is why he is always drawn holding a snake up there in the sky. Hippocrates the famous Greek healer was said to have been descended from him, too.

Within the boundaries of this constellation lies Barnard’s Star, a faint red dwarf star that has the largest known proper motion in the sky. Proper motion is the speed that a star appears to be travelling through the sky as seen from Earth. While most stars won’t change their position noticeably within a century or so, Barnard’s star is charging along, covering the apparent diameter of the moon in the sky every 180 years. At that speed you could chart its course in your own lifetime.

Object for the small telescope

If you are lucky enough to be somewhere dark enough to see the Milky Way shining brightly in the sky, take a closer look at the stars under the sting of Scorpius the Scorpion. Do you notice that there seems to be a bright area of stars here?  This is an open cluster of stars known as Messier 7 (M7).

Look for M7 under the sting of Scorpius.

An open cluster of stars is a group of several hundred to several thousand stars that all formed together from the same cloud of dust and gas.  The dust and gas was blown away from M7 a long time ago and all we see now are the stars that formed.

M7 is an old cluster, estimated to be around 220 million years old. If you have telescope, you might notice a lot of the stars look a little yellow, or even orange.  These are signs that the stars here are starting to age and head towards the end of their life cycles.

M7 looks large in the sky because it is only 800 light years away – that’s pretty close in galactic terms! It is large enough that you might enjoy this cluster in a low power view through binoculars, as well as through a telescope at a higher magnification (about x50 is all that is needed).

How M7 might appear at a moderate magnification.

Credit: N.A.Sharp, REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF

The Parker Solar Probe: a Mission to Touch the Sun

Early August will see a launch window for the ambitious Parker Solar Probe open. Hopefully during August 11th to 19th we will see its successful launch, sending it on a seven year journey to become the first spacecraft to fly directly into the Sun’s corona, one of its most mysterious components.

It actually takes a lot of energy to fall in towards the Sun, even though the Sun has a large gravitational pull. The probe will use Venus to loop closer and closer towards the Sun over several years, finally arriving at the desired distance in December 2024.

The corona is one of the most mysterious components of the Sun. At the moment we only really get to see it when the Moon blocks the Sun out during a total solar eclipse, and we don’t understand why it is so much hotter than the surface of the Sun. Yet is essentially the beginning of the solar wind, a stream of energetic particles that blow out through the solar system, causes aurora, and protects us from interstellar radiation.

The Parker Solar Probe will investigate how so much heat is transferred through the corona, determine the structure of the magnetic fields at the source of the solar wind and how it accelerates away from the Sun’s surface.

If you are interested, you can follow the mission at the official website:

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Preparations being made for the Heat Shield to be fitted to the Parker Solar Probe.

The official mission patch.

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