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The Night Sky Tonight: August 10 – August 18

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 10
39 Draconis is a great septuple star system in Draco, found easily star-hopping of Iota (I) Draconis back to the ?neck? and the same distance beyond. 198 light years away at magnitude 4.96, you?ll find the primary and secondary magnitudes at 5.06 and 8.07 with 3.7 seconds of arc separation. A magnitude 7.96 third member is 89.4 arc-seconds away at PA 150. Psi Draconis is a quintuple system found at the third star in the bend of Draco near the Little Dipper. The primary and secondary members at magnitudes 4.60 and 5.59 with a wide 30.1 seconds of arc separation. What colors do these show to you?

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarSeeker IV 150mm GoTo Reflector Telescope, Orion StarBlast 6 Astro Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: New Moon Challenge Target NGC 5907

Saturday, August 11
NGC 5907 in Draco is known as the Splinter or Knife-Edge Galaxy, a narrow edge-on spiral galaxy located around 40 million light years from us. At 11.5?x1.7? and magnitude 10.3, it appears dimmer with a surface brightness of 13.4. Find it 3 arc-minutes from Iota (I) Draconis, making a right angle from Theta (T). In 8-10 inch telescopes Steve Gottlieb reports is as ?moderately faint, elongated 9? X 0.75? size NNW-SSE, and has an extended 2? long core. The eastern edge is better defined than the western.? Give it a go even in 4-6 inch telescopes, and make sure to check out its Astrophoto of the Day image from June 19, 2008!

Skill Level: Intermediate

Suggested Gear: Orion StarBlast 6i IntelliScope Reflector Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT10 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Perseid Meteor Shower

Sunday, August 12
With no Moon present, this is a great night to watch the annual Perseid Meteor Shower, which reaches maximum tonight into tomorrow morning. Dust from the debris of Comet 109P Swift-Tuttle will create up to 100 meteors per hour with average speeds of 37 miles per second. Normal rates observed from rural locations are 50-75 per hour. If you want to see these, try getting out to where skies are dark to the east, and plan for after midnight. Look for the radiant, where the shooters seem to emanate from, near the star Mirfak below the W shape of Cassiopeia.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion UltraView 10x50 Binocular Solar Kit, Orion FunScope Astro Dazzle 4.5" TableTop Telescope Kit

Tomorrow Evening: Young Moon Rising

Monday, August 13
See if you can catch the very young Moon just due west over the horizon as daylight fades. It is 2.75 days old, in waxing crescent phase. It will be a nice sight along with brilliant Venus in Virgo. The Moon will move tomorrow night above Venus next to the famous double star Porrima, then above Spica as it makes its way toward Jupiter. Speaking of Jupiter, it has finished its retrograde and is now again approaching the double star Zubenelgenubi (Alpha Librae).

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Resolux 7x50 Waterproof Astronomy Binoculars, Orion StarBlast 114mm AutoTracker Reflector Telescope Kit

Tomorrow Morning: Constellation Cetus

Tuesday, August 14
Cetus the sea monster, or whale, is a water constellation located under the fish of Pisces. Its alpha star is Menkar (A), at magnitude 2.53 and 200 solar radii, sitting 220 light years away. Cetus is the sea monster of Greek mythology that Perseus saved Andromeda from. It is bounded by Aries (1), Andromeda (2), Eridanus (3), Fornax (4), Sculptor (5), Aquarius (6) and Pisces (7). Lots of water constellations! Away from the dust and gas our Milky Way, Cetus is home to the deep, where you?re find schools of galaxies swimming.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarSeeker IV 130mm GoTo Reflector Telescope Kit, Orion Observer 80ST 80mm Equatorial Refractor Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Mars Beacons

Wednesday, August 15
Mars is now well up as darkness deepens, sitting in the far southwest corner of Capricornus. Its generous size of 23 arc-minutes will allow good detail of its dark surface features and polar cap, if its global dust storm has subsided. By midnight it will be transiting the meridian, at its high point. Even just seeing it at this size, with its amazing salmon color, is rewarding. If features show, tell us what you?ve seen, or post your photos here. Get out and look, don?t miss out!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarMax 127mm Equatorial Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope, Orion StarSeeker IV 102mm GoTo Mak-Cass Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Binocular Double Star 53 Ceti

Thursday, August 16
53 Ceti, or Chi Ceti, is one of the constellations brightest and easiest to locate stars, directly over the meridian an hour before sunrise today. Find it next to magnitude 3.71 Zeta Ceti. At a combined magnitude of 4.65 this double star is naked-eye, and an easy split in binoculars with a large separation f 192.9 seconds of arc. The primary component is magnitude 4.69 and yellow-white, 77 light years from us. Its companion?s magnitude is 6.81 with a position angle (PA) of 250 degrees. Discovered in 1888, its PA has not changed, but its separation has slowly increased from 183.9 arc-seconds to its current 192.9.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarBlast 6i IntelliScope Reflector Telescope, Orion 10x50 E-Series Waterproof Binocular Solar Kit

Tomorrow Evening: Planetary Fun!

Friday, August 17
The evening sky puts on a nice show tonight with a 6.75 day old First Quarter Moon in Libra, a bit over 8 degrees east of Jupiter. Use your binoculars to view four Lunar Mare: Serenitatis, Tranquilitatis, Fecunditatis and stand alone Crisium. Then shoot over to the fine pairing of Jupiter and Zubenelgenubi (Alpha Librae), only 35 arc-minutes apart and easily fitting into your field of view. You?ll see Jupiter, its four Galilean paired on opposite sides of the planet, as well as Zubenelgenubi splitting as a wide binocular double with 231 arc-second separation. Don?t forget to grab a peek at Venus and Mars, to the west and east while you?re out.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Resolux 10x50 Waterproof Astronomy Binoculars, Orion Observer II 70mm Altazimuth Refractor Telescope Kit

Tomorrow Morning: Galaxy M77 in Cetus

Saturday, August 18
M77 is a magnitude 10.50 galaxy an easy star hop from Alpha Ceti (A) to Delta, 4 arc-minutes in size and showing interesting detail at high power. Here you can see in Roger Ivester?s sketch, its spiral structure and intensely bright condensed core. The galaxy is thought to contain 300 billion stars with a mass of 1,000 billion suns, with a radius of 85,000 light years. It was discovered in 1780 by Pierre Méchain. This galaxy is an active galaxy, known as Cetus A and 3C 71, emitting strongly in radio frequencies. An 8 inch or larger telescope and dark sky will show details.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: SkyLine 10" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Moon Targets

Charts from Starry Night Pro, available from Orion Telescopes & Binoculars. M77 sketch from Orion contributor Roger Ivester. Nu Draconis image from David Ritter via Wikipedia Commons. Struve 30 sketch from Richard Bell?s Stargazer Online. 39 Draconis courtesy Web Society. Psi Draconis from Stephen McGaughey. Lunar photography courtesy Robert Reeves. Catseye Nebula sketch from Jeremy Perez?s Belt of Venus Blog. NGC 5907 image from Other images from Starry Night Pro.

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.