In the August skies you can find Sagittarius, the Archer, lying almost overhead; to its southwest lies Scorpius, the Scorpion. When you look towards these constellations on a clear night, you are looking in the direction of the very heart of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
With the rich regions of Sagittarius and Scutum visible high in the sky, you can pick up a pair of binoculars and ‘wander’ along the Milky Way from Scutum to Centaurus. The constellation Scutum, the Shield, is relatively small – the fifth-smallest of 88 constellations. It is located between the stars of Aquila and Sagittarius, quite close to the constellation Serpens Cauda, the Snake’s Tail, in a wonderfully rich and interesting part of the Milky Way.
In Sagittarius is M8, the Lagoon Nebula, which is visually about three times the size of the full moon and is the largest and brightest of a number of nebulosities in and around Sagittarius. It is an excellent target for a small telescope. And M17, the Omega Nebula, is also a good target for a small telescope. It is a glowing cloud of hydrogen gas that resembles the Greek capital letter Omega. The open cluster M23 and the Sagittarius Star Cloud M24 are ideal binocular objects. A large telescope is needed to clearly see M20, the Trifid Nebula.
On August 2, Saturn will be at opposition, which is when the planet is closest to Earth and brightest for the year. On August 10, the red planet Mars will be near the crescent moon, followed by Venus close to the crescent moon the next night. August 19 will then see Jupiter at opposition. Saturn will be near the moon on August 20, followed by Jupiter near the moon on August 22.
As part of National Science Week 2021, MPAS and The Briars Historic Park will present a public talk all about meteors and meteorites on August 20 at the Mount Martha Observatory. See our special event page for more information and tickets.
By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the August 2021 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.