• Choose a month

  • Rapt in Awe

    My Journey through the Astronomical Year

    Think of this as a "companion text" to this, the main web site. Not required reading, butI hope you'll find it interesting and helpful.

Luna-See – Let the Moon of August 2011 be your guide!

Anyone can find the Moon – so why not use it to help you learn the sky?

Moon and Mars in the early morning sky, August 25, 2011.

Each month the Moon in its travels comes near some planets, bright stars, and asterisms. If you look on the right night this month you’ll be able to use the Moon to help you find:

  • Saturn and Spica (August 2, 3 & 4)
  • Antares and the Scorpion (August 7)
  • The Arrowhead with the asteroid Vesta (August 13)
  • The Hockey Stick and Jupiter (August 19)
  • Pleiades, Hyades, & Aldebaran (August 22)
  • Taurus (August 23)
  • Mars with the heavenly twins, Castor and Pollux (August 25)

Whew! That’s a whole lot.  And you’ll find when and exactly where to look by using the charts below. You have to pick the right night and you have to  be ready to approximate – the charts are a rough guide as to when and where to look – and use binoculars to help you find otherwise bright stars because the Moon light will tend to wash out  all but the brightest.

I say “rough guide” because these charts are all for my specific location on the Northeast Coast of the United States. The moon moves about half a degree (its diameter) an hour, so observers on the West Coast will see it in a little different location than I do. But the charts should give a good general guide and help you know the night sky better – and as a bonus you’ll begin to develop a feel for the rather complex motion of the Moon each month.

Notice that for the first half of the month the Moon is in the early evening sky. For the second half it is in the morning sky. The Moon’s image in the charts is about three times as big as it actually is in order to show the phase clearly.

Click any chart to get a larger version. All charts are prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shots.

Saturn and Spica, (August 2, 3 & 4)

Antares and the Scorpion (August 7)

The Arrowhead with the asteroid Vesta (August 13)

The Hockey Stick and Jupiter (August 19)

Pleiades, Hyades, & Aldebaran (August 22)

Taurus (August 23)

Mars with the heavenly twins, Castor and Pollux (August 25)

Moon phases

  • New Moon  – July 31
  • First Quarter – August 6
  • Full – August 13
  • Last Quarter -August 21
  • New Moon – August 28

Step 3 – Connecting the dots – or why I love asterisms!

When it comes to learning the night sky, constellations can be very confusing and asterisms can be very helpful. But to understand why, let’s make sure we know which is which.

Definitions:

  • Asterism – An informal  collection of stars that form a simple pattern.
  • Constellation – A collection of stars that frequently represents a traditional figure from mythology. The entire sky is divided into 88 such constellations with specific boundaries that are recognized by international agreement.

Many people have never heard the word asterism, but they probably know one or more asterisms, and chances are they think these asterisms are constellations.  Best example: The Big Dipper.  It’s not a constellation. It’s an asterism.  That is, it is an informal collection of seven stars that form the pattern of a water dipper.  But this asterism  is a significant part of a much larger constellation known as Ursa Major, the Great Bear.

Now here’s the problem.  Asterisms are invariably simple. They are usually made of just the brightest stars, and they form patterns that are easy to recognize and remember.  Constellations can be quite complex; to make them look like their names imply, you frequently have to use stars that are too faint for suburban observers to see, and even then they seldom really look like the mythical figures they represent. Even their names can throw the modern ear for a loop. Do you know, for example, what a camelopardalis is? The myths associated with them, while interesting and fun, are rarely known by modern people.  But don’t take my word for it. Here. Give it a try. Take the Constellation Challenge. Use the link below to download a version of the following image suitable for printing, and see how you do. (Of course you can do this in your mind  on the computer screen if you like.)

Click image for larger version.

Click here to download a version of the Constellation Challenge for printing.

Now try the Asterism Challenge.

Click image for larger version.

Click here to download a version of the Asterism Challenge for printing.

When you have done – or attempted to do –  both the Constellation Challenge and the Asterism Challenge, either on paper or mentally on the computer screen, then go to “page 2” which is linked below.

%d bloggers like this: