By: Dustin Jayroe
Stargazing can be an incredibly humbling experience. Simply looking at the sky on any given night allows one to not only marvel at the vastness and splendor of our universe, but also to peer back at the history of it.
Because it takes time for the light from an object to reach our eyes here on earth, the light from the stars above us every night is actually from the past. For the moon, it takes about 1.3 seconds for the light to reach earth, so we will always see the moon as it was 1.3 seconds ago. A random speck of light in the sky could be dozens, hundreds, if not thousands of light-years away. For instance, Polaris, the North Star, is 323 light-years from earth. Gazing upon it is seeing light that is older than the United States as a country.
Starting this summer, AY will be outlining the night sky in these easy to digest guides every month, highlighting the biggest and “brightest” celestial events to help better prepare you for stargazing activities; whether it is as simple as looking up when taking the dog outside, or as official as planning date night – we have you covered.
This month features local astrophotography from Arkansan Tony Milligan. You can find more of his spectacular photos on his website, Captured in Time.
First Quarter: August 7
Full Moon: August 15*
Third Quarter: August 23
New Moon: August 30
*The full moon of August is often called the Sturgeon Moon, named after North America’s largest fish – the lake sturgeon. The fish used to fill our rivers and lakes, from Alabama all the way up to Canada. Now, they are one of the rarest fish on the continent thanks to over-fishing, pollution and agriculture and lumbering.
Perseids Meteor Shower: 7/17 to 8/24
Peak Night(s): August 12, 13
At long last, the Perseids are coming.
Hailed as one of the greatest annual meteor shower shows, the Perseids are made up of debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle. Like most meteor showers, floaters from the Perseids can be seen on either side of its peak from late-July to early-August. But the peak of this shower is a true spectacle with an estimated production of 60-80 “shooting stars” per hour each and every year. This year the moon will be close to full when the Perseids peak, but that will only slow their visibility down a little. This is a can’t miss event.
August 9: Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation
In the first part of August, the closest rock to the sun will reach its greatest western elongation in the early morning sky, which means that it will be at its highest altitude of our observable plane. From around the 9th through the 11th it will remain at this elevated position, rising at around 5 a.m. local time in the north-west part of the sky.
August 9: Close Approach of the Moon and Jupiter
The largest planet in our system will have another meet-cute with the Moon this month, as the pair will be within about two degrees of each other in our sky on the 9th. Look to the constellation Ophiucus at around 8 p.m. and watch the pair rise and fall in the sky together until about 1 a.m.
August 12: Close Approach of the Moon and Saturn
Not to be outdone, Saturn makes a round with the Moon a few days after Jupiter’s, but the ringed cousin will dance even closer with our moon. The two will be within less than one degree of each other, making them close enough to fit in the field of view of a telescope or binoculars, and of course, will be visible to the naked eye. Look to the constellation Sagittarius at nightfall and watch them traverse the sky together until about 3 a.m.
August 10: Pinnacle Mountain State Park Star Party
Time: 8 p.m – 11:00 p.m.
Location: Pinnacle Mountain State Park (11901 Pinnacle Valley Road, Little Rock, AR 72223)
The Central Arkansas Astronomical Society’s (CAAS) monthly star party is on Saturday, August 10, this month. The event is open to the public and will last from 8 pm to 11 pm at Pinnacle Mountain State Park.
There will be telescopes available for use, and members of the Society will be there to serve as guides to the cosmos – assisting attendees in finding planets and other major celestial objects.
This a family-friendly event, and a great opportunity for Arkansans of all ages to have an astronomical experience.
Central Arkansas Library System’s “Six Weeks of Star Wars”
August 1: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
August 8: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
August 15: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Time: 7 p.m. (each night)
Location: Ron Robinson Theater (100 River Market Avenue, Little Rock, AR 72201)
Building off of this six-week event that began last month with the prequels, the CALS will continue their Star Wars saga showing through the first half of August with the “original” trilogy.
Tickets are $5 per person for each screening and can be purchased in advance on the CALS website.
Deep Space Date Night
Tuesday, August 13: Wish Upon a Star
Take advantage of the night with the maximum rate of shooting stars from the Perseids meteor shower on the 13th. While meteors may be within your viewable reach all night, the best time to observe will be from around midnight to 3 a.m. in Arkansas.
The Perseids only come around once per year, so find some dark sky, get comfortable and enjoy the wonders before you.
The best stargazing results are always going to be under the darkest of skies. So, if you can, find a place as far away from city lights as possible when checking out August’s night sky.
Dark Sky Arkansas has a fantastic interactive map of some of the best dark spots and observation sites around the Natural State.
Also, if you have not already, download an app to your phone that helps you find celestial objects and constellations in real-time. Sky Guide and Night Sky are both available for free and are extremely easy to use.
Astrophotography courtesy of Tony Milligan. All photography rights, other than those provided for use by AY About You, belong to him.