Minnesota Starwatch: August 2017

In August, Jupiter heads into the sunset. Every evening it sinks lower, along with its longtime companion Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. Saturn comes out in the south, between the Teapot of Sagittarius to the east and Scorpius to the west.

Also during evening hours, the Milky Way stretches across the sky from northeast to southwest. In its middle is the Summer Triangle of bright stars. Southernmost is Altair, in Aquila, the eagle; in the northeast corner is Deneb, the anchor of Cygnus, the swan, which contains the Northern Cross; and in the northwest corner is Vega, the jewel of Lyra, the lyre. In the west, brilliant Arcturus seems to drag its constellation—kite-shaped Bootes, the herdsman—down toward the horizon.

Venus is still a morning star, blazing away in the east for a couple of hours before sunrise. As August begins, Venus rises in the middle of the knot of bright winter constellations. Surrounding Venus are Orion to the lower right and then, counterclockwise, Taurus and its brightest star, Aldebaran; Auriga the charioteer and its brightest star, Capella; and the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux. During the second week of August, the stars of Gemini stream by the planet. Watch as Venus, Castor and Pollux form an ever-shifting triangle as the stars go by.

August’s full moon arrives in the afternoon of the 7th, several hours before moonrise. The waning moon interferes with the peak of the Perseid meteor shower the nights of the 11th-12th and 12th-13th, but on the 19th a lovely old crescent rises below Venus.

The biggest event is, of course, the solar eclipse on the 21st. In Grand Marais, the eclipse begins at 11:50 a.m., the maximum coverage of the sun comes at 1:09 p.m., and the show ends at 2:28 p.m. Make sure you have eyewear certified to protect you, and let’s hope for clear weather.

The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Duluth campus. For more information and viewing schedules, see the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium at: d.umn.edu/planet.—Deane Morrison