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Solar Eclipse 2017

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The Night Sky Tonight: August 26 – September 3

By Mark Wagner

Friday, August 26
Two very different targets are in prime position on Friday night in Vulpecula, below Cygnus. M27 is the famous Dumbbell Nebula, one of the biggest and brightest planetary nebulae in our sky. A narrowband filter such as Orion?s Ultrablock will enhance the details. It shines at magnitude 7.60 and is 5.8 arc-minutes in diameter. NGC 6940 is an often overlooked dense open cluster, 2,500 light years distant, magnitude 6.30 and a whopping 31 arc-minutes in size; as big as a Full Moon! Can you find these tonight? Please share your impressions on this post on Orion?s Facebook page if you view them.

Skill Level: Intermediate

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope, 1.25" Orion UltraBlock NarrowBand Filter

Tomorrow morning: Double star Omega Andromedae

Saturday, August 27
Omega Andromedae is an off-the-beaten-path double star on the verge of visibility from suburban morning skies, shining at magnitude 4.81 from a distance of 92 light years. Its individual components are magnitudes 5 and 12 respectively, separated by a tight 1.9 arc-seconds. To see the dimmer companion will require a larger telescope, but it is certainly doable. Find it near the end of the dimmer of two chains of stars in Andromeda, leading toward Perseus. Are you up for the challenge?

Skill Level: Advanced

Suggested Gear: Orion StarSeeker IV 150mm GoTo Mak-Cass Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT8i IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow evening: Planets Venus and Jupiter

Sunday, August 28
It won't be easy, but if you have a clear western horizon and a pair of binoculars, there is a nice conjunction of Venus and Jupiter visible a 8 p.m. PDT on Sunday. Little Mercury is nearby too, but sets before the brighter pair. This image shows them all at 19:54. Venus will be at magnitude -3.90 and Jupiter at -1.67, just over two degrees apart. There are the third and fourth brightest objects in our skies. What are the first two? With Saturn and Mars still high up near Scorpius, you have an opportunity to see five planets up at once (with a lot of luck!)

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Scenix 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars, Orion UltraView 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars

Tomorrow morning: Constellation Eridanus

Monday, August 29
The constellation Eridanus is a mythical celestial river, a representation of the River Po in Italy. Eridanus is Latin for River Po. This constellation crosses the celestial equator, with its alpha star Achernar at its southern end, and the beta star (B) Cursa at the northern end. While Eridanus is the sixth largest constellation, it contains only four stars brighter than magnitude 3.0, so following the twisting course of the constellation is difficult, even from darker skies. Away way from the plane of our Milky Way galaxy, Eridanus is rich in dim and distant galaxies.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion DeepMap 600 Folding Star Chart, Orion 15x70 Astronomy Binoculars with Tripod Adapter

Tomorrow evening: Constellation Delphinus

Tuesday, August 30
Little Delphinus is a very recognizable, easy-to-locate constellation in a chain of four small constellations arcing between the heads of Pegasus and Cygnus. It contains a number of worthwhile deep sky objects, notably globular clusters, planetary nebulae and pretty double stars. Representing a swimming dolphin, the constellation dates to the original 48 described by 2nd Century astronomer Ptolemy. Of the 88 modern constellations, Delphinus is the 69th smallest! Can you think of any smaller constellations?

Skill Level: Intermediate

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyQuest XT8i IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope, Orion AstroView 120ST Equatorial Refractor Telescope

Tomorrow morning: Deep sky target in Eridanus

Wednesday, August 31
NGC 1300 is called a grand design barred spiral galaxy, and a good target for larger telescopes from dark skies. Can you see the bar in this galaxy in an amateur telescope? You bet! The smallest instrument I find noted for this target is a 13.1". If you have something near or larger, this is a good target. The galaxy is over 62 million light years away, and part of the Fornax Galaxy Cluster. While its magnitude of 11.21 seems fairly bright, its light is spread out over a large area (6.21x4.1 arc-minutes), giving it a surface brightness of 13.9, so, it is challenging. Get that big scope out to a dark site, use averted vision, and watch that structure come into view.

Skill Level: Advanced

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyQuest XX14i IntelliScope Truss Dobsonian Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XX16g GoTo Truss Tube Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow special: Annular solar eclipse!

Thursday, September 1
If you're lucky enough to be in Africa today, you can witness an annular solar eclipse. The Moon will pass between the Earth and Sun, far enough away to allow the edge of the Sun to show around the disk of the darkened Moon. It is an amazing sight. I witnessed one just a few years ago. Using proper solar glasses to view it, the Sun appeared as a bright ring. In solar telescopes, prominences added to the outstanding sight. How many reading this have seen a solar eclipse? Care to share your impressions in our Facebook comments?

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope, 5.81" ID Orion Full Aperture Solar Filter

Tomorrow evening: Neptune at opposition

Friday, September 2
Tonight the planet Neptune is at opposition. The Earth is positioned directly between the Sun and Neptune. This is the closest we will be to it this year, and Neptune will be visible in the night sky from sunset to sunrise. In a telescope, Neptune presents an obvious blue disk, 2.4 arc-seconds. It is small even at high power, but unmistakable, shining at magnitude 7.82. In large amateur telescopes its moon Triton can also be seen. How far is it? 28.9 A.U. (astronomical units), with 1 = to 93 million miles.

Skill Level: Intermediate

Suggested Gear: Orion AstroView 90mm Equatorial Refractor Telescope, Orion SpaceProbe 130 EQ Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow evening: The Moon and Venus together

Saturday, September 3
A 2.5-day-old waxing crescent Moon is visible just over the western horizon with brilliant Venus just after sunset tonight. You'll have a narrow time window for this one, as the Sun sets at 19:32 PDT, and this image is for about 35 minutes later. If you start looking right after sunset and use binoculars (please wait until the Sun is actually down), you may see a nice even spacing of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter, with Jupiter closest to the horizon in a wide arcing line. Venus will remain above the western horizon over the next two weeks, as the Sun sets earlier each night, and will have a conjunction with Spica in the twilight on Sept. 17. Mark your calendar!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Scenix 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars, Orion 15x70 Astronomy Binoculars with Tripod Adapter

Tomorrow evening: Job's Coffin asterism

Charts from Starry Night Pro, available from Orion Telescopes & Binoculars. Charts from Starry Night Pro, available from Orion Telescopes and Binoculars. M27, NGC 6940 and NGC 1300 images courtesy Wikisky.org. Solar eclipse image courtesy NASA. All data from Starry Night Pro 6 and Wikipedia.

Mark Wagner is a life-long astronomy enthusiast and deep sky observer in the San Francisco bay area. Visit our Facebook Page if you'd like to post comments, questions, sketches or images you've taken on the our Night Sky Tonight sky charts.