Welcome to August, a great month for stargazing. Darkness begins to come earlier, we enjoy the Perseid meteor shower, and we get a chance to see all 5 naked-eye visible planets in the evening sky. There is plenty to see when the sun sets.
We begin the month with an after-sunset show; all 5 planets that are easily visible to the naked eye (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) will be in the sky immediately after sunset. Mercury and Venus will be visible very low in the west, Jupiter will be in the western sky, with Mars and Saturn in the south. You'll need to look very low in the west, right after sunset, to catch a glimpse of Venus and Mercury before they set. A great place to see them all would be the Goldendale Observatory, which has excellent views of the western horizon.
Our Moon will not be in the evening sky at the start of the month. New Moon will occur on Aug. 2. On the 11th of the month, the Moon will lie above Mars and Saturn, in the south. Full moon will be on Aug. 18.
The night of Aug. 12-13 brings the peak of the famous Perseid Meteor Shower. The Moon will be fairly bright (72 percent illuminated) on that evening, and it will not set until about 1 a.m. You will still be able to see the brighter meteors, and you can enjoy the beauty of the waxing gibbous Moon. The best bet for viewing meteors may be after the Moon sets at about 1 a.m. Of course, that means either staying up very late, or getting up very early.
August is a good time to view the constellation Sagittarius, located in the southern sky, just above the horizon. If you follow the ghostly cloud of the Milky Way down to the southern horizon, you're looking at Sagittarius. While the "archer" is difficult to distinguish, you may be able to make out the shape of a "teapot", tilted slightly toward the west. As you look at the constellation, the spout of the teapot is on the right, with the handle on the left. On Aug. 13, the Moon will lie right above the teapot. See if you can make it out.
Early August will have some good opportunities to view the International Space Station as it passes overhead during evening hours. The best was on Aug. 9, when the ISS passed almost directly overhead. Other evenings in the first half of the month will also feature ISS passes that are lower in the sky. Go to www.heavens-above.com, enter your location, and you can see when visible passes will occur. The Space Station is unmistakable, appearing as a very bright "star", moving fast, from west to east across the sky.
Want to learn more about dark skies, and the threat of light pollution to our night sky? Attend the Gorge Night Sky Symposium, on Aug. 18 and 19. On the evening of August 18, at the Goldendale Observatory, Observatory staff will conduct presentations and tours, and a keynote address will be made by Paul Bogard, author of an excellent book, "The End of Night." On Aug. 19, at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, a symposium will focus on promotion of energy-efficient lighting, while preserving the rural dark skies of the Columbia River Gorge. To register, go to the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District web page (http://mcedd.org/) and click on the "Gorge Night Sky 2016" link.
"What's in the Sky" is written by JimWhite.