The following Astro-Landscape August 2018 information is designed with the Astro-Landscape Photographer in mind. I looked around the web for information that a landscape photographer could use to plan interesting photographs that include astronomic objects that were presented in a condensed form. I couldn’t find any I liked, so I made this list for myself. After putting all this together, I expanded the scope to include information for a world-wide audience and then figured I’d put it on the web for others to use.
Please Note: All times are given in UTC, Coordinated Universal Time. Your local times may vary based on your location. If you’re unfamiliar with UTC, check out the excellent description at http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/universal-time.
Even with that information, it can sometimes be confusing converting UTC times to your local time. To help with that, try http://www.timebie.com/std/utc.php for converting specific a UTC time to your local time.
Astro-Landscape August 2018 Highlights
There are three highlights for this month –
- A Partial Solar Eclipse on the August 11th. The Partial Solar Eclipse is visible from the Canadian Provence of Nunavut, Greenland, across northern Europe, and on to northeast Asia.
- Perseid Meteor Shower on August 12th. The Perseids are expected to be best in the pre-dawn hours and have a predicted rate of 60 – 90 meteors/hour.
- Four Visible Planets in a Row. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, in that order, will all be in a row across in the evening sky from mid-month until the end of August.
Milky Way Core (MWC) Best Visibility – 6th to 14th
The Milky Way Core is visible world-wide, all evening and for an hour or so past midnight during August, if the sky is dark enough to see it. The next deciding factor is the moon – if the moon is too bright or near the horizon, it washes out the sky giving poor MWC visibility. Interference from the moon does not change much with latitude.
Nighttime Visibility by Latitude
|65° N||August 1 – Skies are still too bright, only reaching Nautical Twilight.
August 30 – Getting close to nighttime.
|60° N||August 1 – Skies are still too bright, only reaching Nautical Twilight.
August 18 – Nighttime reached.
|55° N||August 1 – Nighttime reached for all month.|
|50° N and south||August 1 – More than 3 hours of Nighttime.|
Latitude 50° and South – the skies here have several hours of astronomical darkness. Any time the moon is not up, it’s going to be a good time for shooting the Milky Way.
Southern Hemisphere – the long nights of winter give the opportunity of many more hours of Milky Way visibility than the Northern Hemisphere. Enjoy them!
Milky Way Visibility
|August 1||MWC not visible due to nearly full moon being up all night.|
|August 2-5||Less than 2 hours of MWC visibility.|
|August 6-8||More than 2 hours of MWC visibility. Waning crescent moon rising in the morning hours.|
|August 9-14||Best time of the month!|
|August 15-18||Less than 2 hours of MWC visibility. Moon setting in the early evening hours.|
|August 19-30||MWC not visible without the moon being up.|
|August 31||Less than 2 hours of MWC visibility.|
August starts with a waning gibbous moon, about 5 days past full, rising after midnight. The new moon is on the 11th, so the first half of the month will have moonless evenings. By the 14th, a thin crescent moon appears in the evening sky. By month’s end, the moon is about 19 days old and is approaching last quarter.
|8/04 18:18 UTC||Third/Last Quarter||Waning Gibbous|
|8/11 09:58 UTC||New Moon||Partial Solar Eclipse!|
|8/18 07:48 UTC||First Quarter||Waxing Gibbous|
|8/26 11:56 UTC||Full Moon||Total Lunar Eclipse|
|Lunar Trivia – American-Centric Traditional Moon Names for August|
Supposedly from “Native Americans” of the NE and Eastern USA
|Sturgeon Moon – to signify the time of year when sturgeon is most readily caught in the Great Lakes or Lake Champlain. The Green Corn Moon was also used.|
|Anglo-Saxon||Fruit Moon – It’s the time to pick whatever fruit grew in Old England.|
|August 11th||A Partial Solar Eclipse will be visible from the Canadian Provence of Nunavut, Greenland, across northern Europe and on to northeast Asia.
The sun will generally be low on the horizon in most locations and may set during the eclipse.
An excellent eclipse simulator that can show what the eclipse will look like from any location on Earth can be found here:https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/solar/2018-august-11
|8/11 08:02 UTC||First time to see the start of partial eclipse|
|8/11 09:46 UTC||Maximum Eclipse|
|8/11 11:31 UTC||Last time to see the end of partial eclipse|
Highlights of the Month
|Four Planets in a Row!||For those ambitious Astro-Landscape photogs out there, you have the chance to get the four brightest planets in a row in the evening sky. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, listed in order of appearance from the sun, will all be in the evening sky.
With Mars past opposition and moving into the evening sky and Venus around its Greatest Eastward Elongation in the middle of the month, these four brightest planets will be nicely spaced across the span of the evening sky. They will be begging to have a panoramic portrait taken!
Mars will be low on the eastern horizon as the month starts, waiting about an hour after sunset will place Mars high enough to see its distinctive red color while keeping Venus high enough that it doesn’t get lost in the glare of the western horizon. There’s about an hour or less to get the shot before Venus sets.
Waiting until the end of the month might be best as the moon will be out of the evening sky after the 27th. Mars will be higher in the sky, but Venus will be moving lower faster than Mars is climbing, so don’t wait too long into the month.
|7/30-31 Mars at nearest approach.||August starts with Mars is just past opposition and near its closest approach with Earth for this year. It’s just past its brightest magnitude of any time of this year. And it is still very bright – it’s the second brightest of the planets this month. Second only to Venus and brighter than Jupiter.
Its red color is very distinctive and bright. Be careful when exposing and processing your images with Mars in them, as Mars is easy to overexpose, oversaturate, and over-process and loose its distinctive ruddy color.
Telescopes: This is still a great time to view and photograph Mars telescopically. There are reports that a massive dust storm which has been enshrouding surface features is starting to die down. That means more details will be visible when viewed through a telescope. A medium or larger aperture telescope will be needed to see surface details.
|Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars surround the Milky Way Core||Like July, August offers an excellent opportunity to get three planets in proximity to the Milky Way Core (MWC). With Jupiter moving more to the west, Mars to the east, and Saturn nearly dead center to the MWC, it’s a great opportunity photographically.|
|Mercury||Mercury starts out the month in the glare of the sun, visible on August 20th.
It will reach Greatest Western Elongation on August 26th. This is when it reaches its highest point above the horizon. It will be more than 18° away from the sun. This means it’s going to rise only an hour before the sun.
This is a great time to see Mercury. Look for it on the eastern horizon right after the start of astronomical twilight. It will be harder to see in the southern hemisphere than the northern.
|Venus||Venus is at Greatest Eastern Elongation on August 17th. This is when it reaches its highest point above the horizon. It will be nearly 46° away from the sun. However, at his time of year, Venus will be low on the horizon for mid- to high-northern latitude observers. Look for it in the western sky just after sunset.
Still the brightest object in the evening sky.
|Mars||Mars starts the month close to the eastern horizon during blue hour. It climbs higher into the eastern sky as the month continues. It still shines brightly a bit east of the Milky Way Core.
See “Highlights of the Month” above as Mars just past opposition this month.
|Jupiter||Jupiter has moved into the southwestern sky during evening hours.
Sets mid-evening by the end of the month.
Third brightest after Venus and Mars, but nearly as bright as Mars still.
|Saturn||Rising along with the Milky Way Core through the entire month.
Highest in the sky well before midnight.
Telescope: The rings are still open at 26° and near its maximum tilt.
|Uranus||Rising in the early morning hours. Opposition will be in October.|
|Neptune||High in the south during dawn. Opposition will be in September.|
|Pluto||Really, if you don’t think Pluto is a planet, check out the photos from the New Horizons space probe. There are dunes of windblown methane ice crystals on it! https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html
It’s located about halfway between Saturn and Mars. If you look in this area for a second or two, you’ll certainly have a few photons that travelled from Pluto hit your retina! But it’s only Magnitude 14 so you’ll need a big scope to see it as an actual point in the sky.
|None in August 2018|
Note – The times given are for the closest approach. As the moon moves relatively quick across the sky, visibility of the closet approach will depend on your location.
|Date – UTC||Objects||Deg
|Moon Age||Moon Phase||Comments
|Moon + Venus||6° 15’||3 days||Waxing Crescent||Low on Western Horizon.
Not very close.
1 out of 5
|Moon + Jupiter||4° 30’||6 days||Waxing Crescent||Low on Western Horizon.
Not very close.
2 out of 5
|Moon + Saturn||2° 07’||10 days||Waxing Gibbous||Pretty Close!
Try a long telephoto.
Use 2 exposures for extreme brightness difference and combine.
4 out of 5
|Moon + Mars||6° 46’||12 days||Waxing Gibbous||Not close
1 out of 5
Perseids – Expected to be one of the best meteor showers this year.
The Perseid meteor shower is the most popular shower to watch in the northern hemisphere as they peak during warm August nights. Named for their radiant in the constellation Perseus, they are swift moving meteors and are known for leaving long trails which can make for some spectacular streaks and fireballs.
Viewing conditions this year are near perfect as the moon is only a day past new and will not interfere with viewing. Meteor showers are best viewed from a dark sky location with an open view of the entire sky.
While Perseid meteors can be viewed from about July 17th to about August 24th, the peak is expected between 20:00 UTC on August 12th and 8:00 UTC on August 13th. This range coincides with the night of August 12th to 13th for Europe and North America.
For Northern Hemisphere viewers, meteors can be seen from the start of dusk until dawn as Perseus is circumpolar and up all night. Expect early evening streaks to be long, as the meteors will be “Earthgrazers” that skim the edge of the atmosphere.
Find the Radiant
The radiant will start the night low on the northeastern horizon and move higher as the evening progresses. The hourly rate will increase as the night continues, with meteors appearing across the entire sky. This shower radiates from the constellation Perseus towards the south. Try looking about 45 degrees away from the radiant (towards the east or southwest) and anywhere from 30° to 80° above the horizon.
There’s a possibility of the Earth passing near a Perseid filament – a relatively young concentration of meteoroids. This is expected to happen around August 12th at 20:00 UTC.
Best Seen From: Northern hemisphere, but also visible in mid-southern latitudes.
Maximum Hourly Rate = 60-90
Meteor Velocity = Swift (37 miles/sec)
Associated Comet = 109P/Swift-Tuttle, discovered in 1862.
|Northern Hemisphere||Getting better – if the night sky dark enough. Higher northern latitudes have will have a chance. It’s possible to catch noctilucent clouds with the northern lights at this time of year.|
“Night clouds” are a tenuous, cloud-like phenomena in the upper atmosphere. They are made of ice crystals and are only visible in deep twilight. Noctilucent clouds are typically visible at higher latitudes in each hemisphere but can occasionally be seen at lower latitudes when the sun is well below the horizon.
|Northern Hemisphere from 50° to 70°||August is a good time of year to see them. These are not affected by moonlight. Look in the direction of where the sun is, as it moves below the northern horizon.|
|Southern Hemisphere from 50° to 70°||Not visible.|
ISS and Satellites
Go to https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/ and sign up for flyover alerts. Usually the alerts show up about 12 hours before the flyover. They tell the time, compass directions, angular elevation, and length of time of the flyover.
|Northern Hemisphere||Good time of year to see ISS flyovers as the longer twilight allow the ISS to be in sunlight longer.
At higher mid-northern latitudes, it may be visible late into the evening or early mornings.
|Southern Hemisphere||The lower angle of the sun in the sky makes for less opportunity to have long flyovers, but check for your location as the time of the flyover greatly affects the visibility of the ISS.|
ISS Transits of the Sun or Moon
There is a possibility that the ISS will pass directly between any particular location on Earth and the Moon or the Sun. These transits are highly dependent on where the observer is located. And higher latitudes decrease the chances of these transits. The best way to find if a transit will happen nearby, go to https://transit-finder.com/
Since the ISS is moving at about 17,000 mph (27,000 km/hr), transits happen quickly! Lasting from about 5 seconds to less than one second. Since these transits happen so quickly, you need to plan ahead! Instead of trying to see the transit and then triggering your shutter by hand, have your camera set up and then either shoot HD or 4K video or have the camera shoot at it’s fastest frame rate. You’ll get more frames shooting video, especially if you have a camera that can shoot at 120 fps.
Use Proper Solar Filters for Solar Transits
For Solar Transits, make sure you use a solar filter that meets ISO 12312-2:2015 Requirements. The same filter that you got for the Great American Solar Eclipse last year will work well. Don’t trust your camera to a standard photographic ND filter as they will most likely not filter out Infrared light. If you don’t have a properly made solar filter, you risk frying your camera sensor by not having the proper filter.
|Nothing of note this month.|
When out shooting the Moon or Milky Way, make sure you take a little time to look around and see the rest of the night sky. Most people have heard of at least a few of the constellations. Like the constellations of the ecliptic that lie along the path the sun travels throughout the year – Virgo, Leo, Sagittarius, or even Ophiuchus to name a few. These are the constellations of the Zodiac. (Ask anyone if they have the star sign Ophiuchus and see how puzzled they are…) In the northern hemisphere, the Big and Little Dipper come to mind, and perhaps even the great Greek heroes like Perseus or Hercules. In the southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross should be a familiar name.
All constellations are what is called an “Asterism”. An asterism is a group of stars that create a pattern, a kind of connect-the-dots stick-figure pattern. These patterns helped early humans learn and remember places in the night sky. The process of making these patterns was completely arbitrary and different cultures created unique asterisms.
While the constellations are the most commonly known names of these patterns, the summer sky in the northern hemisphere has one asterism that is super easy to pick out and makes a great way to get started learning the night sky. It’s called the Summer Triangle.
The Summer Triangle is made up of three stars, Altair, Deneb, and Vega, each located at the vertex of an imaginary triangle, hence the name. These stars are typically the brightest stars overhead during northern hemisphere summer evenings. Since the Summer Triangle is bright enough to be seen in all but the worst light-polluted conditions, it makes a great way to orientate yourself to the night sky. The triangle is nearly a right triangle with Vega located at the corner of the right angle.
Stars of the Summer Triangle
Deneb, is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. Cygnus is nearly lined up with the dark lanes of the Milky Way to the northwest of the Milky Way Core. Deneb is the head of the Cygnus, with it’s body nearly aligned with the dark lanes. Deneb is nearly 196,000 times brighter than the sun and it is perhaps the most inherently luminous star visible from Earth.
Vega is to the east and a little south of Deneb, in the constellation Lyra, the Lyre. It’s the 5th brightest star in the night sky and second in the northern hemisphere.
Altair is in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle. It is just a little west of the dark lanes of the Milky Way. Altair is also one of the closest visible stars to Earth at just under 17 light years away.
The line between Deneb and Altair makes a great way to locate the Milky Way. The Summer Triangle can be seen even in the spring during the early morning hours. And in fall, it’s moved into the western sky during the evening hours. It can be seen in much of the southern hemisphere, where it lies low to the horizon during the Winter months.
Dark Sky Locations
This month, I thought I’d list a location that readers might be interested in visiting to find some of the best dark sky locations. I’d also like to recommend visiting the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) website for more information: http://darksky.org/about/ The IDA maintains a list of some of the world’s best dark sky locations. They are also dedicated to educating people about light pollution and how to reduce it.
One of the first IDA-recognized locations I’ve been to is Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico, USA. http://darksky.org/idsp/parks/chacoculture/ Not only are the skies superb for Astro-Landscape photography, but there is a lot of local history that can be learned there. There are several large Anasazi ruins in the area, some of the best from the Ancient Pueblo People civilization that thrived from 900 CE to 1250 CE.
Archeoastronomy at Chaco Culture NHP
There is strong evidence of archeoastronomy at Chaco Culture NHP. Several roads and large buildings are aligned with compass directions in accordance to solar and lunar cycle. There’s also a “Sun Dagger” petroglyph consisting of a series of spirals pecked into a rock wall that along with some rock slabs, channel thin beams of light across the spiral to note the solstices.
Additionally, in a nearby wash, there’s as a pictograph on a rock overhang that possibly records the observation of the supernova that formed the Crab Nebula. This supernova was visible in the daytime and first observed on 4 July 1054 CE and was visible for about two years. This pictograph shows what appears to be a star with a crescent moon adjacent to it, and a handprint as well, possibly the artist signing the work. On July 5, the moon would have been near the position of the supernova in the sky. An alternative explanation for the pictograph is the depiction of a lunar conjunction with Venus, the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1066 CE, or even the Supernova of 1006. Regardless of what is truly depicted, it’s certain the Chaco Culture was interested in the night sky.
One drawback to doing Astro-Landscape photography at Chaco is that you can’t visit the ruins at night. The roads to the ruins are closed with locked gates, and my experience has been that the ranger sometimes does unlock them early enough to catch sunrise out at the ruins. But that said, there are buttes that can be photographed, as well as they often have telescopes set up for both evening and daytime viewing. And the ranger talks in the evening are excellent as well. Make sure you take a ranger-led tour of some of the ruins when you visit.
If you find any info that needs clarification or correction for this Astro-Landscape August 2018 Notes, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you need to look up last month’s Astro-Landscape Photography Notes, you can find them here: Astro-Landscape July 2018.
Astro-Landscape August 2018