Heads UP! for August 2017

As you may have heard, there is an all-American eclipse on Monday the 21st of this month. For those of you watching here in the New York City Metro area, the Moon will cover 71 percent of the Sun,

Viewing the Partial Eclipse sun

How the sun will look at maximum eclipse in the NYC metro area.

most at 2:44pmEDT when the sun is 53 degrees above the horizon. The first nibble will began at 1:23pm and it’s all over at 4pm.  This is one time you can see the Moon at the exact moment of new moon! The high altitude of the Sun in the sky makes it harder to see if you only can view the eclipse from an office building. Use only certified solar viewers or indirect methods of watching the eclipse.

One additional note of caution; be especially careful if the sky has a layer of clouds that allow the Sun to be dimly visible. It may frustrate people with solar viewers and tempt people to stare unprotected at the dimmed Sun. Don’t take the risk – our eyes don’t have pain receptors, so we don’t know if damage has been done until too late.

In the night sky, Jupiter is low in the southwest, up for 2½ hours after sunset to start the month and only 45 minutes by the end of the month. We still get enough time to gaze at Jupiter’s belts and moons.

We have Saturn for a few hours more than Jupiter, starting nearly a third of the way up in the south when the sky goes dark.  You can’t get much more of a tilt to its rings this year.

Going out further, Neptune, then Uranus, rise in the evening sky. Pluto is really deep, just to the left of Sagittarius’ teaspoon and much fainter.

Returning closer to home, Venus is highest above our morning horizon on the 2nd, even though it’s well after June’s greatest elongation from the Sun. Sunrise moves up into the 6am hour this month, so take a peek before work. Find Venus even as the sky brightens and look there any clear morning for a friend for your morning commute.

Mercury starts out in the evening sky, but it’s a struggle to find it so low in the west. Mercury just claimed the title of closest planet to Earth and keeps the title for the rest of the year.

Our favorite summer meteor shower struggles to be seen in the glare of the chunky morning moon.  The peak number of Perseids run into Earth during Western Hemisphere daytime on the 12th, but the Perseids keep falling near the peak rates for a few days. We see less meteors in the pre-midnight skies as they fall on our ‘rear window’ of our moving planet. So, while there are less crumbs of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle dropping in on us in the evening, there’s no moon to brighten the sky. Or, we can try to spy the brighter meteors that are visible through the moon-bright pre-dawn of either the 12th or 13th.

Our Moon poses with other members of the solar system, twice with Saturn this month, including that very close conjunction with the Sun on the 21st.  Saturn’s turns are on the 2nd/3rd and 29th/30th, Neptune’s on the 9th. On the mornings of the 18th and 19th, there is a great photo op with Venus and the reemergence of Orion from his time behind the Sun.


Early morning sky on the 18th. On the 19th, the Moon will be just below Venus.

The full moon on the 7th will give us practice for photographing the solar eclipse, since the moon is about the same size as the Sun (which is why we have eclipses). The other side of the Earth sees part of the full moon pass through the Earth’s shadow, but not for us.

This is vacation time for the people who run the Mars orbiters and rovers! With the spacecraft and marscraft behind the Sun from Earth, the managers of these ships have loaded them with housekeeping programming and taken a vow of silence for several weeks. Attempts to send commands to these craft through the strong radio emissions from the Sun could have unintended results if the code is corrupted.

The Beehive cluster in Cancer buzzes off to the right edge of the SOHO C3’s view by the 8th of the month. Mars is already in the scene and hangs out through the 20th – but at magnitude plus 1.8 it may not stand out much. Mercury sails wide to the south of the sun from the 23rd through the 31st. And, if you don’t get to see Regulus next to the Sun during the Total Solar Eclipse, look for it in the C3 view around mid-month.

The International Space Station passes over in the evening sky through the 14th.





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