Hey, Sky Fans! August already? What?
Well, as we make our way around the Sun, the Moon’s still making its way around the Earth for the last time before it blocks out the Sun, cuts a big hole in the sky, and the world ends… let’s all say it… later this month. I admit, I’m getting a little tired from all the hype, but it’s going to be great.
Last night, I stepped out under the stars with my older daughter. She’s been busy, and stressed about all the friendship bracelets she needs to make before she heads back to school. I don’t really mean to make fun. It’s me who should be made fun of. It’s easy to get wrapped up our own, nominally more important, things, and forget that things like these are a big deal that might seem fun from my angle, but, from hers, seemed like a lot of work.
As we sat in what’s become our favorite south-facing spot and talked, a meteor streaked across the sky overhead. She’d never seen one, which was instantly exciting for us both, and changed the conversation toward bigger, broader things, and some small piece of the jigsaw puzzle of life clicked into place for her.
Looking back toward the south, I snapped this photo. I had a Groupon, so I was able to get a few things labeled. It looks full in the photo, but last night’s Moon was just past first quarter. That’s the one where the right-hand side from our perspective, is lit. Along the Moon’s western limb, it’s high noon, while the bagels and lox are being eaten and the coffee poured across the Moon’s central highlands and seas.
We’re now into the waxing gibbous phases. These are the ones after the crescents but before the Full Moon. While we’ve lost earth shine, by mid- or late-afternoon, the Moon’s up, rising a bit later each day as its orbit swings it farther from the Sun, deeper into the Earth’s nights. A keen eye can find it scratched into the blue, part of the quiet conversation between us sky fans; our little secret.
Last night, it was making its way through the constellation Libra, the scales, past its two bright stars Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali. This put it right next to Scorpius, one of the most summery of summertime constellations, with its bright and summery star, Antares.
This chunk of the sky here is a pretty cool one, with a lot of constellations coming together. Scorpius, with its fan-shaped asterism that really actually kind of looks like maybe a scorpion, is pretty close to its highest point in the sky. That photo is nearly due south, the point where, in the northern hemisphere, rising becomes setting. Just below the frame, are the trees and rooftops down the block. You can see how low in the sky these stars are, even at their highest.
Saturn, meanwhile, is a bit father to the east in the constellation Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer. It’s a big and sparse constellation whose lower section is just tucked between Scorpius and Sagittarius, the archer.
As the Moon moves through this part of the sky over the next couple of nights, it’ll pass just above Antares tonight, August 1, and just above Saturn tomorrow night, August 2, and continue on its way toward full.
Try pointing your eyes toward Saturn, but a little bit lower. Use the Moon for a guide on August 3 if you need to. Invisible to us is Sagittarius A*, the super-massive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, 26,000 light years behind the big fir try in my photo. I labeled the general area for you.
While the Moon orbits Earth and Earth orbits the Sun, the Sun, and everything orbiting it, is orbiting the galactic center, as are all of the other stars above us, night after night, month after month, year after year. The path is so long that it takes the Sun almost 250 million years to make it around once. It’s nearly imperceptible to us over a human lifespan, but our views on these things is changing, too, ever so slightly.
From wherever you’re sitting, you can look in toward the middle of our galaxy and try to imagine it; try to see everything moving. I remember looking toward that spot years ago, and feeling a huge sense of awe of how the cycles builds the patterns work. Some more puzzle pieces fit together.
Back inside, she stopped me from giving her advice. “I got it figured out,” she said, gave me a hug, grabbed her book, and hopped into bed. I turned and left, as another puzzle piece of parenting snapped into place.
I hope you’ll have a look over the next couple of nights, and see it all come together, too. Clear skies, everyone!