August 2014 is an exceptional month for those interested in looking up as there are a variety of spectacular and fascinating events taking place in the sky. Among these are that on the 4th the Moon covers Saturn and a week later there is the rise and set of a supermoon. Then on the 18th Venus and Jupiter move close together in the morning sky.
The full Moon in May 2014. Photo Nick Lomb
Dr Harley Wood was Government Astronomer for NSW from 1943 to 1974. He was born on this day in 1911 in Gulgong NSW. He was educated at Mudgee High School and at Sydney University. In 1965 the University awarded him the degree of Doctor of Science for his studies of the positions and motions of stars.
Harley Wood looking through a spectroscope. Courtesy Powerhouse Museum
Looking north in the early evening we see Spica, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo the Maiden, very high in the sky directly in front of us. Don’t confuse Spica with the planets Mars and Saturn, which are to its right or east. Below and a little to the right or east of Spica we find the reddish star Arcturus.
The constellation of Virgo with the adjacent constellation of Corvus. Courtesy Stellarium
The historic Apollo 8 capsule that circled the Moon in December 1968 is on display in the Henry Crown Space Centre. Photo Nick Lomb
In early July during a short trip to the United States I took the opportunity to pay a brief visit the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the country’s largest museum. It was impossible to take in the whole of the vast museum, but I selected a number of exhibitions to visit, including the display of the Apollo 8 capsule that circled the Moon and became the first manned craft to leave the vicinity of the Earth.
The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Photo Nick Lomb
One impressive exhibition I saw was a fully automated toy factory, ToyMaker 3000. For a payment of $5 you can watch a toy being assembled by robots specifically for you and at the end the toy is even packaged automatically. You can collect the finished product by presenting your receipt for scanning. Another exhibition was a large model railway, The Great Train Story, showing how goods are transported to Chicago from a shipping terminal at Seattle. In the model 20 trains run continually on over 400 metres of track against a backdrop of scale models of the buildings of Chicago and Seattle.
The Rotunda at the museum gives a choice of many fascinating exhibits to visit. Picture Nick Lomb
Of course, I soon made my way to the Henry Crown Space Centre. There I controlled a model of a Mars rover though I did not have the time or the patience to fully back it out of the corner in which it had been left. As well, I was not fully successful in getting a space shuttle to dock with the International Space Station using an interactive computer simulation. There was too much else to see including a training mock-up of the Apollo 11 lunar lander that was used to give shows every few minutes illustrating the excitement of the first Moon landing.
A philatelic envelope commemorating the launch of Apollo 8. Courtesy Powerhouse Museum
What caught my eye though is the Apollo 8 capsule in which Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders were the first people leave the vicinity of the Earth and circle the Moon in late December 1968. This was an important milestone towards the first landing on the Moon that took place just seven months later. Although 1968 was a turbulent year with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Tet offensive in Vietnam and much else Time magazine named the three Apollo 8 astronauts as Men of the Year.
The Apollo 8 image of Earthrise from the Moon. Courtesy NASA
The greatest legacy of the Apollo 8 mission is one photograph that they took as they came around the Moon in the capsule and saw a gibbous blue Earth rising above the lifeless surface below. That one image changed the perspective with which people saw our home planet. Previously, it was seen and ignored as a large, solid, stable and permanent surface that fully encompassed all human activities, past, present and future. Now people could see it is a delicate fragile object moving on its own in a much greater Universe. This fragile object needed protection and so this, now iconic and ubiquitous, picture is credited with beginning the environmental movement.
The inscription to the Earthrise from the Moon photo on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Photo Nick Lomb
Seeing the Apollo 8 capsule and being reminded of its great significance was a fitting conclusion to visiting the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
M87, which is number 87 on a list of fuzzy objects discovered by the French astronomer Charles Messier, is one of the most interesting galaxies in the sky. Scientists using X-ray and optical observations recently calculated that at its centre there is a supermassive black hole with a mass six billion times that of the Sun.
The Hubble Space Telescope image of the galaxy M87. Courtesy NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Book the 8:15pm night tour on Monday 4th August to also see an occultation of Saturn. At 9:22pm Saturn will disappear behind the Moon and re-emerge at 10:13pm. On this evening the night tour will continue until 10:30pm to allow visitors to see Saturn re-emerge from behind Moon. It will include an outdoor telescope and binoculars if weather permits. All visitors will have a 3D Theatre experience and if the weather is poor a virtual night sky in Sydney Planetarium.
This month the first visibility of the crescent Moon after the astronomical instant of new Moon is of particular significance in the Islamic calendar. The Moon was new on Sunday at 8:42 am. After sunset this evening the Moon will have moved sufficiently away from the glare of the Sun to be briefly visible as a thin crescent in the western sky.
The crescent Moon. Photo Nick Lomb
Apollo 15 was launched towards the Moon on this date in 1971. Two astronauts, David Scott and James Irwin landed four days later next to the spectacular scenery of the Apennine Mountains. In a lunar first they travelled about 28 km in a Lunar Roving Vehicle.
The Apollo 15 lunar rover on the Moon. Courtesy NASA
Facing south in the early evening we see the reddish star Antares among the stars of Scorpius to our left or east. In front of us the Southern Cross with its bright stars stands vertically high in the sky while the two pointers are to its left and almost horizontal.
Antares and the stars of the constellation of Scorpius the Archer. Photo Nick Lomb
To help you learn about the southern night sky, Sydney Observatory provides an audio guide/podcast, transcript of that audio, and a sky map or chart each month. This month’s guide is presented by Melissa Hulbert, Sydney Observatory Astronomy Educator.
Mel suggests stars and constellations to look out for this month include Scorpius, with the red star at its heart, Antares; Sagittarius (which looks more like a teapot than a centaur); Crux – more commonly known as the Southern Cross; and Ophiuchus, the 13th sign of the zodiac! Mel also tells us the best times and dates to try to see the planets Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury.
For more, listen to the August 2014 night sky guide audio, or read the transcript below.
HEAR THE AUDIO
You can subscribe with iTunes or upload the (18 mins 40 secs) audio to your iPod or mp3 player, or listen to it on your computer.
SEE THE SKY CHART
We provide an embedded sky map (below) and an August 2014 night sky chart (PDF) which shows the stars, constellations and planets visible in the night sky from anywhere in Australia. To view PDF star charts you will need to download and install Adobe Acrobat Reader if it’s not on your computer already.
August 2014 night sky chart
BUY THE BOOK
Our annual book, ‘The 2014 Australasian sky guide’, by Dr Nick Lomb has more information and star maps for months from December 2013 until December 2014 inclusive (next year’s, likely to be available from November, will have months from December 2014 to December 2015), plus information about the Sun, twilight, the Moon and tides, and a host of other fascinating astronomical information. You can purchase it ($16.95) at Sydney Observatory and Powerhouse Museum shops or other good bookshops, or online through Powerhouse Publishing (additional packing/postage costs apply).
READ THE TRANSCRIPT (after the jump)