Night fallen on a campsite with an illuminated tent and small burning fire

Eyes on the skies — August

Welcome to the Ontario Parks “Eyes on the Skies” series. This space (<– see what we did there?) will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.

August is here at last with its fine weather, fewer mosquitos, and longer nights. All of the constellations and objects from July are still visible, but there are a few exciting new things to see this month.

Here are our astronomical highlights for August 2018:

The sun

The sun continues its apparent drop in elevation as it approaches next month’s fall equinox (equal light and dark).

For those of us relying on daylight to paddle to that distant lakeside campsite or hike that last ridge before setting up for the evening, knowing when the sun sets is important.

sunset

In August, we see a big change in the amount of daylight. The sun sets around 8:55 pm at the beginning of the month, but by month’s end, it sets almost an hour earlier at 8:06 pm.

Because of the canopy of trees surrounding most campsites, the horizon will be blocked, meaning you will lose the sun about an hour earlier. If you’re travelling around August 31, make sure you finish your hike or paddle by 7:00 pm.

This can shorten our recreation time, but from an astronomy perspective, we gain almost two more hours of darkness to appreciate the night skies.

Sunrise and sunset times

August 1 August 15 August 31
Sunrise 6:08 am 6:25 am 6:45 am
Midday 1:32 pm 1:30 pm 1:23 pm
Sunset 8:55 pm 8:34 pm 8:06 pm

The moon

The moon has long captivated observers of all ages. August lunar phases of the moon occur as follows:

  • last quarter on August 4
  • waning cresent on August 7
  • new moon on August 11
  • waxing cresent on August 15
  • first quarter on August 18
  • waxing gibbous on August 23
  • full moon on August 26
  • waning gibbous on August 30

lunar cycle August 2018

Did you know many First Nations teachings, including those of the Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee people, use the back of a turtle’s shell as a lunar calendar?

Learn more here.

The planets

The planets as described in our July edition are still quite present and quite spectacular. At the beginning of the month, Mars is still close to us (rising just after midnight) and Jupiter and Saturn are great objects to see towards the south (Saturn) and southwest (Jupiter).

moon

Try to enjoy their splendor with binoculars. A good pair of birding binoculars will show you the brightest moons of Jupiter. Known as the Galilean moons, these four objects were first discovered 400 years ago by Galileo with just a simple telescope.

To see the rings of Saturn, you will either need a powerful pair of binoculars (mounted atop a tripod) or a telescope. A small telescope will show you the rings and larger telescopes will display far more detail.

To learn more about the planets, please see our July, June and May editions.

Meteor showers

August brings one of the most enjoyable meteor showers of the year – the Perseids.

A meteor shower occurs when the earth enters the debris field of a comet that has long ago passed around the sun. These bits of dust and grit, often no bigger than your thumbnail, enter the earth’s atmosphere and burn up high above the ground (see our post on meteor showers for more information).

meteors

This year, the Perseid meteor showers occur on a near moonless night. In our dark provincial park skies, a typical observer should see between 50 to 60 meteors per hour.

Be on the lookout however, as the material in space is not evenly distributed and, in some years, the number of meteors per hour can spike upwards to 150 or more!

Featured constellations: an archer, dolphin and a goat

In this month’s featured constellations, we discuss Sagittarius, Capricornus, and Delphinus.

Sky chart for August

Nebulae

When looking towards the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy, we can catch sight of many beautiful objects in the sky.

collage of nebulae

M8 (the Lagoon Nebula) and M20 (the Trifid Nebula) are just two of the notable objects that can be seen with a large pair of binoculars or a telescope.

Learn more about nebulae here.

Want to spend some time observing the skies?

Several provincial parks are hosting astronomy events this summer, including a very exciting announcement at Killarney Provincial Park.

Check out our 2018 summer star parties to find out where and when!

This completes our review of the August skies. Come back next month to learn about our galaxy and the stars of September.