Every week, SkyNews publishes a list of key events in the Canadian sky in This Week’s Sky. This series gives you all the latest news in Solar System movements, including where the planets are in our sky and Moon phases. From eclipses to meteor showers, This Week’s Sky keeps you updated on the best in upcoming astronomical highlights.
Monday, August 22 – Minor planet Vesta at opposition (all night)
On Monday, August 22, the Earth’s orbital motion will carry us between the minor planet Vesta and the Sun. Because it will be opposite the Sun in the sky, Vesta will be visible all night long, and shine at its brightest for the year (magnitude 5.6), well within reach of binoculars (green circle) and small telescopes. Look for the asteroid in southwestern Aquarius, approximately midway between Saturn and the bright star Fomalhaut. On the nights surrounding Monday, Vesta will form the upper left (or northern) corner of an isosceles triangle with the medium-bright stars named 41 and 47 Aquarii.
Wednesday, August 24 – Uranus pauses in Aries (overnight)
On Wednesday, August 24, Uranus’ easterly motion across the stars of southeastern Aries will slow to a stop as it prepares to commence a westward retrograde loop that will last until January, 2023. Tonight the magnitude 5.7 planet will rise shortly before 11 p.m. local time and then remain visible until the brightening sky hides it before dawn. Uranus will be sitting at the bottom corner of a box formed by the magnitude 4 and 5 stars Botein or Delta Arietis, Epsilon Arietis and Pi Arietis, creating a distinctive asterism for anyone viewing Uranus in binoculars (green circle).
Thursday, August 25 – Old Moon near Venus and Ceres (before sunrise)
Look low in the east-northeastern sky before sunrise on Thursday, August 25 for the slender crescent of the old Moon shining a generous palm’s width above (or 6.5 degrees to the celestial northwest) of the very bright planet Venus. Before the morning sky brightens too much, use binoculars (green circle) to spy the magnitude 8.7 speck of the dwarf planet Ceres sitting halfway between, and a few degrees to the left of, the moon and Venus. The large open star cluster known as the Beehive and Messier 44 will also be positioned to the moon’s upper right (or celestial southwest). For eye safety, turn optics away from the horizon before sunrise.
Saturday, August 27 – New Moon (at 8:17 UTC)
On Saturday, August 27 at 4:17 a.m. EDT or 1:17 a.m. PDT and 08:17 UTC, the Moon will officially reach its new Moon phase. At that time our natural satellite will be located in Leo, 4.3 degrees northeast of the Sun. While new, the Moon is travelling between Earth and the Sun. Since sunlight can only illuminate the far side of the Moon, and the Moon is in the same region of the sky as the Sun, it becomes completely hidden from view from anywhere on Earth for about a day. After the new Moon phase, Earth’s celestial night-light will return to shine as a young crescent in the western evening sky.
Saturday, August 27 – Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation (after sunset)
After sunset on Saturday, August 27, Mercury (orbit shown in red) will be just hours past its widest separation of 27 degrees east of the Sun, and its maximum visibility for the current apparition. With Mercury positioned in the western sky well below the severely tilted evening ecliptic (green line), this appearance of the planet will be a very poor one for Northern Hemisphere observers, but will offer excellent views for observers near the equator and farther south. The optimal viewing times at mid-northern latitudes arrive just after 8 p.m. local time. Viewed in a telescope (inset) the planet will exhibit a waning, half-illuminated phase. Watch for the young crescent Moon shining well off to Mercury’s lower right.
Chris Vaughan is a science writer, geophysicist, astronomer, planetary scientist and an “outreach RASCal.” He writes Astronomy Skylights, and you can follow him on Twitter at @astrogeoguy. He can also bring his Digital Starlab portable inflatable planetarium to your school or other daytime or evening event. Contact him through AstroGeo.ca to tour the Universe together.