The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Jim White 

What's in the August sky?


August 3, 2016

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 five 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 five 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.

Our Moon will not be in the evening sky at the start of the month. New Moon occurs on Aug. 2. On the 5th, the thin crescent Moon will lie right below Jupiter in the southwestern sky. On the 11th of the month, the Moon will lie above Mars and Saturn, in the south.

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. The best bet for viewing meteors may be after the Moon sets.

Aug. is a good time to view the constellation Sagittarius, located in the southern sky, just above the horizon. 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.

Early August will have some good opportunities to view the International Space Station as it passes overhead during evening hours. The best will be on Aug. 9, when the ISS passes almost directly overhead. Look for it at about 10:05 p.m. Other evenings in the first half of the month will also feature ISS passes that are lower in the sky. Go to, 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.

Trout Lakers and others are welcome to join me for stargazing at the Trout Lake Fair, on the evening of Aug. 6, at the Trout Lake School soccer field, starting at 8:30 p.m. With a bit of luck we may be able to see all five of the planets mentioned above, plus a nice crescent Moon. When skies are dark, we should also be able to see star clusters, nebulas and galaxies, and just enjoy the night sky. Weather permitting, of course!

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 ( and click on the "Gorge Night Sky 2016" link.


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