Author's Note: The "Upstate New York Stargazing" series ran on the newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com websites (and limited use in-print) from 2016 to 2018. For the full list of articles, see the Upstate New York Stargazing page.
Stargazing in Upstate NY: What to see in the night skies Aug. 18 to 25
Updated: Aug. 18, 2017, 2:56 p.m. | Published: Aug. 18, 2017, 1:56 p.m.
By Damian Allis | Contributing writer
This summertime weekly summary for planetary, satellite, constellation, and other observing opportunities covers the third full week of August. The countdown of weeks and days will soon turn to hours as the early afternoon of Monday, August 21st approaches. As reported recently on nyup.com, our coverage for upstate NY will be between 70 and 75 percent – not enough to significantly darken the sky, but enough to drop the temperature a degree or two. With luck, the one thing not blocking the sun will be clouds, with the current forecast calling for good reported conditions on Monday.
Many local libraries have already obtained solar-safe glasses for the eclipse, and I encourage you to check with your local branch to see when they'll be made available.
Reminder: In last week's article, we discussed solar safety and the presence of unsafe solar glasses in the market. If you bought or were given a pair, please read the NASA News press release on how to know your glasses are safe to use. In a nutshell: If you doubt – throw them out.
Below is a list of scheduled lecture and observing opportunities around Upstate New York for the eclipse. If looking for a place to enjoy the eclipse with others, your best bet is to contact your local library and see what their or neighboring library plans are for that afternoon.
Solar Eclipse Calendar
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||Solar Eclipse||Aug. 21||1:22 – 3:56 PM||email, website|
|Cazenovia Public Library||Cazenovia||Solar Eclipse Party||Aug. 21||2:00 – 3:15 PM||315-655-9322 website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Solar Eclipse||Aug. 21||11:30 AM – 4:00 PM||email, website|
|Liverpool Public Library||Liverpool||Solar Eclipse Party||Aug. 21||1:00 – 4:00 PM||315-457-0310 website|
|Marcellus Free Library||Marcellus||Solar Eclipse Party||Aug. 21||1:00 – 4:00 PM||315-673-3221 website|
|Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society||Waterville||Solar Eclipse||Aug. 21||12:00 – 4:00 PM||email, website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||Jamesville||Lecture & Solar Eclipse @ DeWitt & Jamesville Library||Aug. 21||12:00 – 4:00 PM||315-446-3578 website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||Syracuse||Solar Eclipse Party @ Hazard Branch||Aug. 21||12:00 – 4:00 PM||315-435-5326 website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||Syracuse||Solar Eclipse Party @ Paine Branch||Aug. 21||2:00 – 3:00 PM||315-435-5442 website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||Syracuse||Solar Eclipse Party @ White Branch||Aug. 21||2:00 – 3:00 PM||315-435-3519 website|
|Skaneateles Library||Skaneateles||Solar Eclipse Party||Aug. 21||2:00 – 3:00 PM||email, website|
Lectures And Observing Opportunities In Upstate/Central New York
New York has a number of astronomers, astronomy clubs, and observatories that host public sessions throughout the year. Announced sessions from several respondent NY astronomy organizations are provided from the fourth week to the end of August so you can plan accordingly. As wind and cloud cover are always factors when observing, please check the provided contact information and/or email the groups a day-or-so before an announced session, as some groups will also schedule weather-alternate dates. Also use the contact info for directions and to check on any applicable event or parking fees.
Astronomy Events Calendar
|Adirondack Public Observatory||Tupper Lake||Public Observing||Aug. 18||1/2 Hour After Sunset||email, website|
|Adirondack Public Observatory||Tupper Lake||Public Observing||Aug. 21||1/2 Hour After Sunset||email, website|
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||Octagon Barn Star Party||Aug. 18||8:00 – 10:00 PM||email, website|
|Baltimore Woods||Marcellus||Bob Piekiel & Solar Observing||Aug. 26/27||1:00 – 3:00 PM||email, website|
|Green Lakes State Park||Fayetteville||Bob Piekiel & Summer Skies||Aug. 18/19||8:00 – 10:00 PM||315-637-6111 website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Friday Night Lecture & Observing||Aug. 18||8:00 PM||email, website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Friday Night Lecture & Observing||Aug. 25||8:00 PM||email, website|
|Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society||Waterville||Public Stargazing @ Waterville Library||Aug. 26/27||8:30 – 11:30 PM||email, website|
ISS And Other Bright Satellites
Satellite flyovers are commonplace, with several bright passes easily visible per hour in the nighttime sky, yet a thrill to new observers of all ages. Few flyovers compare in brightness or interest to the International Space Station. The flyovers of the football field-sized craft with its massive solar panel arrays can be predicted to within several seconds and take several minutes to complete.
This is a rare week for New York this year, as there are no visible flyovers of the ISS for us. The ISS returns prominently for early September.
|New:||First Quarter:||Full:||Third Quarter:|
|Aug. 21, 2:30 PM||Aug. 29, 4:12 AM||Sept. 6, 3:02 AM||Sept. 13, 2:24 AM|
The Moon's increasing brightness as Full Moon approaches washes out fainter stars, random meteors, and other celestial objects – this is bad for most observing, but excellent for new observers, as only the brightest stars (those that mark the major constellations) and planets remain visible for your easy identification. If you've never tried it, the Moon is a wonderful binocular object. The labeled image identifies features easily found with low-power binoculars.
Items and events listed below assume you're outside and observing most anywhere in New York state. The longer you're outside and away from indoor or bright lights, the better your dark adaption will be. If you have to use your smartphone, find a red light app or piece of red acetate, else set your brightness as low as possible.
Evening Skies: The two most prominent shapes in the sky are the Big Dipper and the Summer Triangle, with the Sagittarius Teapot highlighted in several previous articles. Whether or not you can see the Teapot, another very distinctive shape is as high as it will get in the southern sky right now just to the west. The body of Scorpius, easily identified by the bright red-orange star Antares and now residing below Saturn in the nighttime sky, hooks down and back up around the southern tree line at our latitude in a shape that nearly every civilization has recorded as being a celestial scorpion. Like the Teapot, the Scorpion tail is between us and the galactic center – a scan with binoculars will reveal a number of objects that do not come into focus like their surrounding stars.
The Big Dipper is a bright and easy guide for finding Polaris, the north star. From its handle, you can "arc" down to Arcturus. Jupiter, which stands out soon after sunset, is close to the bright star Spica in Virgo and to the southwest of bright Arcturus in Bootes. Saturn is also visible soon after dusk, rising soon after the bright orange star Antares in Scorpius.
Morning Skies: Venus has left the crowded best-of-winter constellations and is heading towards Mars and Mercury in the pre-sunrise sky. The entire body of Orion the Hunter rises in the morning sky before sunrise. When it clears the horizon in its entirety, it might jump out to you as a massive bow tie with the bright Rigel and Betelgeuse marking the brightest corners. It is very likely that you won't need this asterism to identify Orion – the three aligned stars of the belt tend to jump out to everyone on first viewing.
Mercury: Mercury rises just after the sun right now in the morning sky but peaks above the horizon before the sun on the 26th, after which we'll begin to have opportunities to observe it and Mars.
Venus: Venus remains unmistakable in the early morning and even into sunrise, rising just before 3:45 a.m. all week. With good, steady binoculars, you should be able to see that Venus is currently more than half-lit – and you can follow the changing phases of Venus as it and the Earth make our ways around the Sun. Venus says goodbye to Pollux in Gemini this week en route to Cancer the Crab. On August 19th, the Moon and Venus have their closest pass this month, with the possibility of observers seeing Mars before 6:00 a.m. lower and to the east.
Mars: Mars returns to our dawn skies in the very early morning, rising before 6 a.m. all week. You'll have precious little time to enjoy any early sight of it if attempting to do so with equipment, as the sun rises about a half-hour later. We are set for some excellent close approaches in the early-September morning sky with Mars, Mercury, and Regulus.
Jupiter: If you look southwest soon after sunset, Jupiter will be the brightest object you can see. Jupiter is setting earlier every night and will not be with us for easy observing by the end of October, making September an excellent month to take in Jupiter and its moons with binoculars and telescopes either in your backyard or at a local public viewing session. The 25th will see the close approach of the Moon with Jupiter, forming a bright triangle with bright Spica in Virgo. Low power binoculars are excellent for spying the four bright Galilean moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto – and several online guides will even map their orbits for you. Jupiter is to the west of the bright star Spica in Virgo, roughly a full fist-width if you measure with your arm fully-extended.
Saturn: Still on the western edge of the brightest part of the Milky Way, Saturn is going to spend the next 17 months making its way to the eastern edge above the teapot of Sagittarius, all the while giving us an excellent observing target until next autumn. Saturn will make its own headlines after the August 21st eclipse, as the Cassini Mission will come to a dramatic end on September 15th of this year. Among the many stunning images sent back from the Cassini probe is a fitting one for this week – a shadow cast by Titan on Saturn's surface. An observer at the right position would bear witness to a literally far-out eclipse of their own.
As a refresher from the June 30th to July 7th article, those looking in the direction of Saturn with binoculars are treated to a host of Messier ("M") Objects – all residing between ourselves and the center of the Milky Way galaxy above the spout of the Sagittarius teapot. A good star chart and some guide stars will help you determine just which object you're looking at.
Dr. Damian Allis is the director of CNY Observers and a NASA Solar System Ambassador. If you know of any other NY astronomy events or clubs to promote, please contact the author.