August: Wolf lies low in the winter night sky

NGC6357, also known as the Lobster Nebula, is located 8000 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius. It is 400 light-years across and is forming some of the most massive stars in the galaxy, but no one is quite sure why that is. Being in the constellation Scorpius means the Lobster Nebula is in the general direction of the centre of the Milky Way. Photo: MPAS member Nick Axaris

Low on the horizon between the stars of Centaurus and Scorpius is the constellation Lupus, the Wolf. In the east the bright star Fomalhaut lies in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish, and is one of the brightest stars in the sky. Between Fomalhaut and the stars of Scorpius are the stars of the constellations Grus, Tucana, Pavo and Ara. With clear and dark skies you should have little trouble seeing the Small Magellanic Cloud sitting to the west of the Achernar in Eridanus.

Looking north, the constellation Cygnus, the Swan, is home to two open clusters that make good small telescope targets. M29 sits very close to the star Gamma Cygni, officially named Sadr. The magnitude 4.6 cluster M39 can be seen sparkling against the stars of the Milky Way. It has about 30 stars and covers an area of similar size to the full moon and lies 825 light-years away. Higher in the sky you will find Capricornus, the Sea Goat, which is home to the globular cluster M30 and Beta Capricorni – a double star of magnitude 3.1 that can be seen with binoculars.

On August 23, looking between the constellations Capricornus and Aquarius, the asteroid 4 Vesta will be at opposition to the sun and at its closest point to Earth – only 192.3 million kilometres away – which is when it shines at its brightest for the year and is visible through binoculars or a small telescope.

August 27 will see Mercury at its greatest elongation east, which signals the best time to observe the inner planet, as it will be at its greatest distance from the sun and its glare. Then three days later on August 30, Mercury will be at dichotomy, which means that half of its Earth-facing side will be illuminated by the sun.

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the August 2022 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.