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Star Gazing - August 3, 2020


■ Full Moon (exact at 11:59 a.m. EDT). This evening the Moon rises about a half hour after sunset for
most of North America. By nightfall it's shining brightly low in the southeast, in dim Capricornus, to the
lower left of Saturn and Jupiter. High above the Moon is Altair.

■ Mars is at perihelion, its closest to the Sun in its 1.88-year orbit. Its closer-than-average solar distance
this summer contributes a little to Mars's brightness.


■ The Big Dipper hangs diagonally in the northwest after dark. From its midpoint, look to the right by
about three fists at arm's length to find Polaris (not very bright at 2nd magnitude) glimmering due north in
the same place it always does.

Polaris is the handle-end of the Little Dipper. The only other parts of the Little Dipper that are even
modestly bright are the two stars forming the outer end of its bowl: 2nd-magnitude Kochab and 3rd-
magnitude Pherkad. On August evenings you'll find them to Polaris's upper left (by about a fist and a half).
They're called the Guardians of the Pole, since they ceaselessly circle around Polaris throughout the night
and throughout the year.


■ The exact midpoint of summer comes today at 1:08 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (17:08 UT). This is the
halfway point between this year's June solstice and September equinox.


■ Low in the northwest or north at the end of these long summer twilights, would you recognize
noctilucent clouds if you saw them? They're the most astronomical of all cloud types, what with their
extreme altitude and their formation on meteoric dust particles. And they're fairly rare — though
becoming more common in recent years as the Earth's atmosphere changes. See Bob King's Nights of
Noctilucent Clouds.


■ Bright Vega passes closest to overhead around 10 or 11 p.m., depending on how far east or west you are
in your time zone. How closely it misses your zenith depends on how far north or south you are. It passes
right through your zenith if you're at latitude 39° north (Washington DC, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Lake
Tahoe). How closely can you judge this just by looking?

Deneb crosses its closest to the zenith almost exactly two hours after Vega. To see Deneb exactly straight
up, you'd need to be at latitude 45° north: Portland, Minneapolis, Montreal, southern France, northern


■ Mars and the waning gibbous Moon rise together around 11 p.m. or so daylight saving time, separated
by only 2° or 3° for North America. By midnight they're quite the spectacle shining low in the east. Dawn
finds them very high in the south, now as little as 1° apart depending on where you are.
Starry, Starry Night . . .
"I know nothing of any certainty, but the sight of the stars
makes me dream." -Vincent Van Gogh
current night sky over Nashville, TN
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