August 2018

Each month I will describe sights of interest in the night skies of South Carolina. These sights will be broken down into four sections; what you can see with the naked eye, with binoculars, with a small refracting telescope and with a Dobsonian reflector. The best time to view the night sky is at and around the times when the Moon is not visible, what is known as a New Moon; which will occur this month on August 12th. For August, your best viewing nights will be from August 1st to the 14th. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on August 15th at 10 pm. Note: A new table of contents for earlier columns is located in this January 2018 column.

What about July’s Blood Moon?

Perhaps some of you read or heard about the Blood Moon on July 27th. Not only was there going to be a Blood Moon, but it would be the longest one of this century! My readers probably wondered why I did not mention it in my July column. After moving past the Blood Moon headlines you would eventually arrive at the point where the news report mentioned that it would not be visible anywhere in the United States; it was a southern hemisphere event. Hopefully the news report did not tempt you to fly on down to Australia, Argentina or Central Africa to see this event of the century.

First of all, if you are reading my astronomy column, then you know vastly more about astronomical events the great majority of the general population. The general population that follows media reports now thinks that this is a mysterious or shocking event. However, people with good knowledge of astronomy know that a Blood Moon is simply a lunar eclipse. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth’s shadow covers a full Moon. This is not a rare event, and it happens usually every few years. Indeed, unlike a solar eclipse, few people even venture outside to observe a lunar eclipse. The next total lunar eclipse visible in South Carolina will be January 21st 2019. At that time, I will discuss some interesting aspects about viewing a lunar eclipse.

Back to the Blood Moon…the phrase “the Moon will turn to blood” is found in three places in the Bible, and is used in a prophetic manner. In recent times, some people have used a red Moon as a prophetic sign of some sort of doom. In addition, the media loves to report any shocking claims without any regard for their authenticity. The headlines “Blood Moon and doom will surely attract the attention of the general readers unlike the uninteresting phrase “lunar eclipse”. I feel that all future lunar eclipses will now be reported only as Blood Moon events. The media also imply that this is a lunar eclipse, but it is special because the Moon turns red. This is deceptive reporting. Indeed, during most lunar eclipses, the Moon has a red color during totality; this is not an omen, but simple physics. During a lunar eclipse, the shadow of the Earth covers the Moon, which should make the Moon black. However, the thick atmosphere of the Earth allows some light to reach the Moon. This occurs because the atmosphere can refract (bend) the light of the Sun. The sun gives us white light which contains all the colors of the rainbow; ROYGBIV. Due to the nature of light, shorter wavelengths such as BIV scatter in the atmosphere, resulting in a blue sky. When the passage through the atmosphere is longer, the longer wavelengths scatter: YG. The result, depending on atmospheric conditions is a red sunset. Therefore, during a lunar eclipse, the small amount of sunlight that is bent around the Earth is only the red/orange light, resulting in a reddish color during a lunar eclipse. No magic, no rarity, no prophesy, just science.

The Perseids Meteor Shower:

There are three good meteor showers each year, each occurring around mid-month in August, November and December. Over the last several years, in my personal opinion, the December Geminids yielded the best shower. The favorite shower for most amateurs however is the Perseids, which occur this month. This shower is favored because it occurs when the weather is warm, and during summer vacation time. I agree that these are good reasons to stay up past midnight and look to the heavens from a comfortable lawn chair.

A detailed description of meteor showers and various observation methods is found in my August 2015 column. In that description, you will find that the best time to view a meteor shower for maximum rate of meteors is after midnight; even better would be about 3 am. A full or nearly full Moon will wash out the vast majority of meteors. This year the shower will occur in a perfect moonless sky. The Perseids meteor shower this month will peak after midnight in the early morning of hours August 13th; of course some meteors will be visible before midnight on the 12th. For the people who can’t stay up late, try this. Go to bed early, and have a designated meteor watcher who stays up. If it is a great meteor shower, he or she can wake up the other family members.

Astronomers predict a good shower of about 100 meteors per hour. I have found most predictions to be grossly over estimated because they are meant for rare perfect dark sky locations.

 

Naked Eye Sights: The Perseids meteor shower. The Summer Milky Way and the constellations of summer

Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power): The summer Milky Way and its many Messier objects.

Big Binocular Sights (18 to 25 power): The summer Milky Way and its many Messier objects.

Telescope Sights (60-100mm): Saturn and Jupiter. Mars is also visible this month, but it not too impressive through amateur scopes; check it out

Dobsonian telescope (6 -8 inch): Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and summer Messier objects.

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