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. 4 to 11
Updated: Jan. 02, 2019, 3:48 p.m. | Published: Aug. 04, 2017, 2:20 p.m.
By Damian Allis | Contributing Writer
This summertime weekly summary for planetary, satellite, constellation, and other observing opportunities covers the first full week of August. With just under three weeks until the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, there's plenty of time to make sure you have safe solar glasses without excessive last-minute shipping fees. There have been many reports recently about unsafe solar glasses being sold for the eclipse – a sad state of affairs regardless of whether the sellers are uninformed or knowingly skimping on materials. The trick to solar observing is not simply to reduce the amount of visible light going into your eyes, but to remove as much of the high intensity visible light and damaging ultraviolet light as possible to keep from serious and permanent retinal damage. A recent NASA News press release goes into great detail about safe preparations for the eclipse, breaking down the issue of safe eclipses glasses as follows:
In a nutshell: If you doubt – throw them out.
Many local libraries have already obtained solar-safe glasses for the eclipse, and I encourage you to check with your local branch to see if and when they'll be made available. And don't worry – everyone else is going to call in sick that afternoon, too.
As a reminder: A number of eclipse articles have already been posted on syracuse.com, including:
Below is a list of scheduled lecture and observing opportunities around Upstate New York for the eclipse – this list will be reproduced in the following articles and will hopefully be added to as other locations announce events. If you know of an event not listed, please send an email with details. As always around here, we can only hope for clear skies!
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 Lecture||Aug. 16||7:00 – 8:30 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||Eclipse Lecture, Clinton||Aug. 2||7:00 – 8:30 PM||email, website|
|Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society||Waterville||Eclipse Lecture, Canastota||Aug. 3||7:00 – 8:30 PM||email, website|
|Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society||Waterville||Solar Eclipse||Aug. 21||12:00 – 4:00 PM||email, website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||NOPL North Syracuse||Solar Eclipse Lecture||Aug. 14||6:30 – 8:00 PM||315-458-6184 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 Lecture||Aug. 12||1:00 – 2:00 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 second 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. 4||1/2 Hour After Sunset||email, website|
|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||Night Sky Adventure||Aug. 15||8:00 – 9:30 PM||email, website|
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||AAAA Meeting||Aug. 17||7:30 – 9:00 PM||email, website|
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||Octagon Barn Star Party||Aug. 18||8:00 – 10:00 PM||email, website|
|Astronomy Section, Rochester Academy of Science||Rochester||Observing At The Strasenburgh||Aug. 5||8:30 – 10:30 PM||Jim S., 585-703-9876|
|Astronomy Section, Rochester Academy of Science||Rochester||Observing At The Strasenburgh||Aug. 12||8:30 – 10:30 PM||Jim S., 585-703-9876|
|Baltimore Woods||Marcellus||Bob Piekiel & Perseid Meteor Shower||Aug. 12/13||8:30 – 11:00 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. 4||8:00 PM||email, website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Friday Night Lecture & Observing||Aug. 11||8:00 PM||email, website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Perseid Meteor Shower||Aug. 12||8:00 PM – 12:30 AM||email, 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||Meeting||Aug. 9||7:30 – 9:00 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.
The 4th to the 8th will see double flyovers in the pre-midnight skies, followed by early flyovers through the 11th. If you follow the August 11th flyover far enough, you'll see the ISS pass very close to Saturn, will within the field of view of 10×50 binoculars. Properly equipped members of the amateur radio community can even add audio to their visual experiences by listening to transmissions from the ISS – see ariss.org or issfanclub.com for details.
|Date||Brightness||Approx. Start||Start Direct.||Approx. End||End Direct.|
|4-Aug||moderately||9:10 PM||NW||9:15 PM||E/NE|
|4-Aug||extremely||10:46 PM||NW||10:49 PM||N/NE|
|5-Aug||very||9:54 PM||NW||9:59 PM||E/NE|
|5-Aug||moderately||11:30 PM||W/NW||11:31 PM||W/NW|
|6-Aug||very||9:02 PM||NW||9:07 PM||E/NE|
|6-Aug||extremely||10:38 PM||W/NW||10:41 PM||W|
|7-Aug||extremely||9:45 PM||NW||9:50 PM||E|
|7-Aug||somewhat||11:22 PM||W||11:23 PM||W|
|8-Aug||very||8:53 PM||NW||8:59 PM||E|
|8-Aug||very||10:30 PM||W/NW||10:32 PM||SW|
|9-Aug||extremely||9:37 PM||W/NW||9:42 PM||SE|
|10-Aug||moderately||10:22 PM||W||10:24 PM||SW|
|11-Aug||very||9:29 PM||W/NW||9:34 PM||S|
|Full:||Third Quarter:||New:||First Quarter:|
|Aug. 7, 2:10 PM||Aug. 14, 9:14 PM||Aug. 21, 2:30 PM||Aug. 29, 4:12 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 is unmistakable in the early morning sky, second only to the Moon in brightness before sunrise. The torso of Orion is increasingly peaking above the pre-dawn skies behind Taurus the Bull. As dawn approaches, Venus and the bright stars Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, and Capella may be the last few celestial objects you see.
Mercury: While technically visible after sunset this week, Mercury is very low on the horizon and awash in scattered sunlight. Observers with binoculars might consider scanning the western horizon before 9:00 p.m. to find it, but DO NOT risk doing so until after the sun has set, as even a moment of magnified sunlight will permanently damage your vision. For the patient, Mercury becomes a good early morning target with Mars in late August/early September.
Venus: Venus remains unmistakable in the early morning and even into sunrise, rising just before 3:20 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 way around the Sun. Venus joins the twins Castor and Pollux in Gemini this week before striking the heart of Cancer the Crab at month's end.
Mars: Mars will not return to our pre-midnight skies until this time next year, but will become a morning target in late August/early September. August 4th marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of the Phoenix Mars Lander mission, whose parachute decent on May 25th of 2008 was even captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Jupiter: If you look southwest soon after sunset, Jupiter will be the brightest object you can see. Jupiter is setting earlier every night but is gaining back some of its observing time now that we're past the summer solstice. 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. If the skies fail to cooperate at any point, you can still spend time exploring the largest planet in our Solar System thanks to the great science being done by the NASA Juno Probe currently in Jovian orbit.
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. If skies are agreeable on August 11th, observers will even be treated to a very close flyby of the ISS just before 9:34 p.m.
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.
The Perseid Meteor Shower, Peaking Aug. 12
The Perseids are arguably the best, and best-timed, meteor shower of the year, with long-night observing sessions made all the easier by reasonable temperatures and not having school the next day. If you saw an image announcing "the greatest meteor shower in human history" on social media these past few weeks, you may end up being quite disappointed in the quality of the show this year – and hopefully a little more skeptical on August 13th of the veracity of the claims made on shared, unattributed images. The quality of the Persieds this year will be greatly diminished by the presence of the Moon before 11 p.m. on the 11th and its presence during the peak on the morning of the 12th, which will wash out much of the splendor of any meteor trails you might see. That said, the Persieds are a very widely-spread shower, with activity from the end of July to the end of August. If you're out and observing under a clear, dark sky right now, you may see a few bright Perseid streaks regardless.
The name of each meteor shower is based on the constellation from which the shooting stars appear to radiate – a position in the sky we call the radiant. In the case of the Perseids, the meteor shower radiant appears to be just off the head of Perseus, which rises from the northeast just after 9 p.m. this month. The meteor shower itself is provided to us by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which last made its dramatic pass in 1992 and which will return again to replenish the debris field in 2126.