August 28th, 2015
It’s late summer in the northern hemisphere and for many of us, it’s the perfect time for a family get-together. But while the summer sun is shining, the kids are playing and the adults are talking, few among us are thinking about the summer stars that may be glinting later in the evening. Maybe once the food has been eaten, the sun has gone down and the air is cool, you’ll look up to the darkening sky above.
What do you see?
Tonight, August 28th, you’ll see a nearly full Moon rising in the south-east. For many, a full Moon is a thing of beauty and mystery, but for astronomers it can be – well, to be frank – a real pain in the eyepiece. Literally. Looking at the full Moon through a telescope is a dazzling experience that can leave you blinking and barely able to see much at all for a few minutes.
The full Moon is not your friend.
Like the Sun, it also brightens the sky and makes the stars harder to see. And for those of us who love to explore the deep night sky, the faint fuzzies of summer – star clusters, nebulae and our own Milky Way galaxy – all but disappear completely in the pale moonlight.
So what’s left in the dark blue night?
Fortunately, the brightest stars are still visible and one in particular shines like a summer diamond. Vega, a brilliant blue-white star that appears overhead at around 10 p.m., is the fifth brightest star in the sky and the brightest in the small constellation of Lyra, the Lyre. At just over 25 light years away, it’s one of the closest stars to the Sun and despite only being about a tenth the Sun’s age, is twice as massive and is already halfway through its life.
The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
Vega is a beauty on any given summer night, but look for two other bright stars close by. With Deneb, the brightest star in Cygnus, to the east and Altair, the brightest star in Aquila, to the south, it forms the famous Summer Triangle.
Binoculars will show you more.
If you have a pair, turn your binoculars toward the Vega and look carefully for a nearby pair of stars. This is Epsilon Lyrae, the famous “double double.” Right now, with a regular pair of 10×50’s, you’re seeing a single pair of white stars, of equal brightness. But turn a telescope toward them and with a magnification of about 100x, you’ll see both stars are now split again.
Where once there were two stars, there now appear four.
The Double Double is a favorite with amateur astronomers. Like Vega, it’s easily visible throughout the summer months and long into the autumn. A popular sight at star parties and star-b-q’s, it’s immune to the charms of the full Moon and, like Vega, it refuses to surrender its light like so many of the fainter stars around it. Diamonds, indeed, for a dark blue night.
Other Astronomical Events for August 28th, 2015:
The constellation Lacerta (the Lizard) culminates at midnight tonight. (Naked eye, all night.)
Events in bold involve objects and/or events that are visible with the naked eye.
All times are in Universal Time (UTC). To convert the time to your timezone, click here.
2015: An Astronomical Year
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