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The Night Sky Tonight: August 18 – August 26

By Mark Wagner

Mark Wagner brings us highlights of what's happening in the sky each night this week. Click on each image to enlarge the view. Happy gazing!

Friday, August 18
12 (Gamma) Delphini is the nose of the tiny dolphin of the constellation Delphinus. It is a beautiful binary star system 102 light years distant, with an orange subgiant primary at magnitude 4.27 and yellow-white companion at magnitude 5.14, with a separation of 8.9 arc-seconds. This is among the easiest showpiece double stars you'll find, so put it on your list for this weekend targets. That raises the questions, what else do you plan to look at in your telescope this fine summer Friday night?

Skill Level: Beginner

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

Tomorrow Morning: Castor, Pollux, Venus and Moon

Saturday, August 19
This morning's waning crescent Moon is two days from new, when the United States will experience a coast-to-coast total solar eclipse. Who is excited? Today, though, enjoy this sight of the thin old Moon below brilliant Venus, which sits on the right arm of Pollux, brother of Castor, the Twins Of Gemini. Add in Canis Minor's alpha star Procyon low over the eastern horizon for a big sweeping arc of morning celestial gems.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SpaceProbe 130 EQ Reflector Telescope, Orion DeepMap 600 Folding Star Chart

Tomorrow Evening: Globular Clusters in Delphinus

Sunday, August 20
Compare and contrast these two globular clusters in Delphinus, each part of the New General Catalog. Both will appear small and fuzzy, unresolved in telescopes. NGC 7006 is 2.8 arc-minutes in diameter at magnitude 10.56, very remote in our galaxy's halo, 135,000 light years away. The sketch is at low power in an 8" Orion Dobsonian. NGC 6934 is magnitude 8.8 and 8.7 arc-minutes in size, about 50,000 light years from us. The average distance for globular clusters in the Milky Way is around 25,000 light years, so both of these targets are exceptional for their positions.

Skill Level: Intermediate

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyQuest XT8i IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT10 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Total Eclipse USA!

Monday, August 21
The Big Day has finally arrived! Who will post their U.S.A eclipse impressions on our Facebook page? We welcome them! The path of totality is about 70 miles wide. If you're in that path, you'll see a total eclipse. Outside the center line, the further away you are, the smaller the "bite" of Sun the Moon will take. Remember, do NOT look at the Sun without proper eye protection, and make sure what you're using is good and reliable. You can even look at the shade from tree leaves to see the eclipse in shadow patterns on the ground or other objects.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Safe Solar filters for your eyes or equipment, A tree to observe the shadows of the eclipse on the ground!

Tomorrow Evening: Young Moon with Sun and Regulus

Tuesday, August 22
This image is before sunset. It shows the Sun 28 arc-minutes off Regulus, Leo's brightest star. That's less than the diameter of a Full Moon. Look at the position of the young Moon, now 1.4 days past new, when it eclipsed the Sun yesterday morning. Once the Sun has set, the 2% illuminated crescent will begin emerging as the sky darkens. Imagers, how about some photos of this post-eclipse thin crescent Moon? Let's see what you can do!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarBlast II 4.5 Equatorial Reflector Telescope, Orion Shorty 1.25" 2x Barlow Lens

Tomorrow Morning: Constellation Auriga

Wednesday, August 23
The constellation Auriga represents a mythological Roman Charioteer, and was included as one of the original 48 constellations noted by 2nd century A.D. astronomer Ptolemy. It is bordered by Camelopardalis (1), Lynx (2), Gemini (3), Taurus (4) and Perseus (5), and is the radiant for the Aurigid and Delta Aurigid meteor showers. Its alpha (A) star, Capella, is the sixth brightest star in the sky, third brightest in the northern hemisphere, sits a relatively close 42.8 light years from us, and is actually a very tight pair of binary stars (four stars total). Capella is worth reading about in greater detail. Along the Winter Milky Way, it has some great open clusters that we'll visit.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Telescope Observer's Guide, Orion DeepMap 600 Folding Star Chart

Tomorrow Evening: Quick Twilight Views

Thursday, August 24
Step outside an hour after sunset and enjoy this excellent view with just your eyes! Over the southern horizon are Saturn and Antares, creamy white and reddish tones, 12.5 degrees apart. Toward the west, Jupiter and Spica are paired, with the great planet outshining its stellar evening partner by nearly two magnitudes. To their right (from northern hemisphere locations) is a beautiful, waxing crescent, 13% illuminated Moon, almost 3.5 days old, 386,000 km away, a rather average distance in its varying orbit around us. We'll feature a morning view tomorrow, but make sure to see the Moon, Jupiter and Spica in a tight triangle tomorrow evening.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Star Target Planisphere, 30-50 degree, Orion DeepMap 600 Folding Star Chart

Tomorrow Morning: Auriga's Three Messier Clusters in Binoculars

Friday, August 25
Auriga rides squarely along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, home to young stars in "open clusters." Here are three easy bright examples. M36, M37 and M38 were discovered by Giovanni Batista Hodierna before 1654, 4,100, 4,500 and 4,200 light years distant, respectively. Each cluster differs significantly from the others, which is easier to discern in a telescope, although all are visible in binoculars. Take a look and tell us what differences you see.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarBlast II 4.5 Equatorial Reflector Telescope, Orion StarBlast 6 Astro Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Quick Moon Views

Saturday, August 26
These excellent photos from Robert Reeves show two great areas to explore quickly tonight as the Moon drops quickly over the western horizon. The pair Hercules and Atlas (A), left to right are good targets in a 60mm refractor or larger. They are 42 and 53 miles in diameter and show tremendous detail. Often overlooked is the crater Fracastorius, nice in 10X binoculars, along the south bank of Mare Nectaris, which has gobbled up the crater's northern perimeter. Both areas are fine for sketching. Do we have any sketchers willing to post their work showing these targets?

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Observer 70mm Altazimuth Refractor Telescope, Orion MoonMap 260

Tomorrow Morning: Double Star in Auriga




Charts from Starry Night Pro, available from Orion Telescopes & Binoculars. Other data from Starry Night Pro 6 and Wikipedia. 12 Delphini, NGC 7006, M36, M37, M38 sketches from Jeremy Perez's blog Belt Of Venus. NGC 6934 image from Wikisky.org. Solar Eclipse photo courtesy NASA. Lunar images from Robert Reeves.

Mark Wagner is a lifelong 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 to our Night Sky Tonight post.