Bright lights in August

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ECLIPSE: A total eclipse of the sun will be observed by millions of people across the United States later this month.

TIME waits for no one as the saying goes and this is plainly demonstrated by the relentless procession of our winter skies, with the Milky

Way now appearing from the north-northeast to the south-southwest at around 7.30pm.

The great constellation, Scorpio, right above us, is now presenting a different orientation as it continues its circular journey around the South Celestial Pole.

Bright star Canopus is now due south and is just dipping below the southern horizon to briefly reappear to the southeast again around midnight.

The Southern Cross is now on its side, with its two pointers trailing after it. Below it, you may be able to pick out the False Cross as well.

The centre of our galaxy in Sagittarius is passing directly overhead at this time, giving us at these southern latitudes the best possible views of the many interesting nebulae and clusters.

This area contains great clouds of stellar dust and gases that prevent us seeing very deeply into it, let alone what’s on the other side.

However, with advances in science, telescopes that record light in the infra-red wavelength of the spectrum have managed to peer deeper into this region in recent times to reveal some new information on what has been hidden to humanity up until now.

These telescopes have revealed much more information on what is happening in the centre, recording the very fast motions of stars in all sorts of oblique orbits that reveal the presence of a black hole there.

Continuing studies have its mass at equal to 4.1 million times our sun, crammed into a sphere of 45 astronomical unit’s radius.

Our own MOA (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics) telescope at Mount John, Tekapo, has been very fruitful in discovering extra-celestial planets in the Sagittarius region, not directly, but through gravitational or microlensing, a technique by waiting for one star to move in front of another, (they are all moving) thereby magnifying the more distant one.

Jupiter, still bright, is steadily sinking to the west now, and growing slightly dimmer due to the increasing distance, now at 5.917 astronomical units (the distance from Earth to Sun).

But it is still a great sight to see with Galilean moons continually changing their positions, particularly Io.

Saturn is slightly north and close to overhead and very nice to view right now at 9.509 AU. We are also speeding away from it as well in our closer orbit to the sun.

There will be much publicity about the satellite Cassini next month, which is about to end its long and very fruitful mission by burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere.

Venus, now at 1.230 AU, is very bright in the morning sky, low to the north-east. It is rising later each morning now as it continues to curve down, to fade from view before long in the morning glare on the far side of the sun.

It is leaving behind Pleiades, (Matariki) Taurus and Orion as they proceed west across the morning sky as well, making them all a great sight in the morning sky right now.

I have not mentioned the Moon in my previous articles, but it has dashed across the sky each time.

But on August 22 (August 23 in America) it will be the centre of attention, particularly in the United States, as its black unlit side glides directly across the face of the sun in a narrow track, a bit over 181 kilometres wide from just south of Portland in the west all the way across the US to South Carolina in the east.

This will give millions a rare chance to experience the amazing spectacle of a total solar eclipse, the first extensive eclipse since June 8, 1918.

Norm Izett



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