Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.
The Night Sky This Week: August 21-27, 2023
This week our natural satellite in space reaches its First Quarter phase—appearing half-lit as seen from Earth—and begin to bleach the night sky. However, this one comes with a bonus. It may make stargazing more difficult and less impressive, but this half-lit moon will do something extraordinary by occulting—blocking-out, or eclipsing—a massive red supergiant star.
The moon occulting Antares is a major highlight ion the week, but if you have small telescope you should be out every night looking at Saturn and its incredible seven rings. With Earth now between the sun and sixth planet, Saturn is at its brightest and best in 2023.
Monday, August 21: Six Years Since The Last ‘Great American Eclipse’
Where were you on August 21, 2017? The first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse for 99 years was an incredible occasion for anyone with an interest in the sky. For just over two minutes, and within a narrow path of totality, stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, eclipse chases, stood in awe as the solar corona was revealed to them. Usually, totality is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, North America is living through a golden age of solar eclipses and another one is coming up very soon when on April 8, 2024 totality will last as long as 4 minutes 26 seconds. This time the path of totality will stretch from Mexico through Texas and 13 other U.S. states to Atlantic Canada.
Wednesday, August 23: Mercury Retrograde
From today through September 15, Mercury will be in a period of apparent retrograde motion”—appearing to go backwards in the sky. The cause is Mercury’s orbit of the Sun, which is slightly elliptical. When it gets close to Earth during its “inferior conjunction”—right now—its movement against the background of stars appears to slow down.
As Earth overtakes it, Mercury appears to go backwards for a short period, much like if you overtake a vehicle on the highway. It’s all and only a matter of perspective and has no significance to humans.
Thursday, August 24: A First Quarter Moon Occults Antares
Tonight a First Quarter Moon will move across a bright star in the night sky in a rare view only afforded to those in central U.S. and northern Florida. The event—called an occultation by astronomers—will see a bright 56%-lit waxing gibbous moon occult (or eclipse) the light from Antares, the 15th brightest star in the night sky. It will disappear for about an hour from 02:29 UTC. See this occultation map) on In-the-sky.org.
Friday, August 25: It’s 50 Day Countdown to America’s ‘Great Western Ring of Fire Eclipse’
In just 50 days a dramatic “ring of fire” annular solar eclipse will be visible from parts of the U.S., central and South America. While most of North, central and South America will see a partial solar eclipse, those within a narrow path will see a ring around the moon for up to five minutes.
The path is about 125 miles wide and stretches from from Oregon through Texas, the Gulf of Mexico, Central America and Colombia to Brazil.
Sunday, August 27: Saturn at Opposition
The ringed planet will shine at its brightest—and shine all night—on this date. Why? Earth will be placed between the Sun and Saturn, with the latter thus 100%-lit from our point of view, rising in the east at sunset and setting in the west at sunrise.
However, our view of the gas giant’s rings are narrowing slightly, and will continue to do so through 2025, when they begin to open-up again. Either way, tonight—and, practically speaking, a few weeks either side—is a fabulous time to train a small telescope on the ringed planet, which you’ll find in the constellation Aquarius.
Object Of The Week: Saturn at Opposition
One of the most mind-blowing things to see in a small telescope is the rings of Saturn. You don’t need anything special—any backyard telescope will do—though do keep your expectations low. Yes, you’ll see the rings, but don’t expect the planet to fill the entire frame. A six-inch (or larger) aperture telescope is when it begins to impress.
Times and dates given apply to mid-northern latitudes. For the most accurate location-specific information consult online planetariums like Stellarium and The Sky Live. Check planet-rise/planet-set, sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times for where you are.
Disclaimer: I am the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com and author of “The Complete Guide To The Great North American Eclipse of April 8, 2024.”
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.
#Night #Sky #Week