What's visible in the night sky this week? Find out here
Monday, August 22, 2016, 1:21 PM - The biggest and brightest of the night sky, a waning moon, the flipping of a celestial triangle and a sunset conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. It's the Night Sky this Week!
The biggest and brightest of the northern and southern skies
Although the western sky becomes a bit more interesting later on in the week (read on, below), throughout the next week, the best the night sky has to offer is actually in the northern and southern skies.
Look to the north this week, and the constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor - better known as the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper - are clearly visible, along with the other prominent northern constellations, such as Cassiopeia, Andromeda and Perseus. Look for Polaris, the North Star, at the tip of the Little Dipper's handle. The Andromeda Galaxy can be seen between Andromeda and Cassiopeia.
Looking North, after dark, for the week of August 22-28, 2016. Credit: Stellarium/S. Sutherland
Look to the south, and you can see two bright stars - Altair almost directly overhead and Antares closer to the horizon, with two bright planets hanging around Antares to put on a little show during the week (read on for details).
Looking South, after dark, for the week of August 22-28, 2016. Credit: Stellarium/S. Sutherland
The biggest thing in the sky you can see now, as long as you can get away from bright city lights and give your eyes enough time to adjust to the dark, is the arc of the Milky Way Galaxy, which stretches almost directly overhead from the southern horizon.
The Waning Moon
With last week's Full Sturgeon Moon and "almost" lunar eclipse over, the Moon is waning from roughly three-quarters full on the night of the 22nd, down to just a crescent on the 28th.
Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio. Animation by S. Sutherland
Flipping the "celestial triangle"
Last week, Saturn, Mars and Antares formed into a bright celestial triangle in the southern sky. This week, we get to see this triangle "flip over" as Saturn and Antares - the more distant objects in the triangle - advance across the sky to roughly line up with Mars and then continue on to form another triangle, this time on the other side of the Red Planet from where they were.
Credit: Stellarium/S. Sutherland
Saturn and supermassive Antares will continue their journey "away" from Mars in the sky each night, stretching the triangle out in the weeks to come. So, this is an interesting one to watch, just to see how the night sky evolves over time.
A bright sunset conjunction
Saturday night is going to be a great time to be watching the sunset, so if the weather is cooperating in your area, find a place with the best view of the horizon, with no buildings or trees blocking your view.
Because right after the Sun sets, and the stars and planets begin to peak through the glare of sunlight, the two brightest planets in our night sky - Jupiter and Venus - are going to be so close as to appear to touch!
The western horizon, at roughly 8 p.m., Saturday, August 27, 2016. Credit: Stellarium/S. Sutherland
Look at the two planets through a pair of binoculars or a telescope and the "zoomed-in" view will put a bit of distance between them, but to the unaided eye, they will appear so close as to merge into one bright spot!
The two planets aren't anywhere near each other in reality, of course. They simply appear that way from our point of view. Mercury is also in that part of the sky, but it slips beyond the horizon before the sky becomes dark enough to possibly see it.
Here is the updated cloud conditions forecast, for Friday night through Sunday night:
The animation starts at 11 p.m. EDT Friday and runs through until 11 p.m. EDT on Sunday, in 3 hour time steps.