Stargazers spoilt for choice in August

The Trifid Nebula (M20) is an unusual combination of an open cluster of stars – an emission nebula, a reflection nebula and a dark nebula. Its name means ‘divided into three lobes’. Photo by MPAS member Nick Axaris

In the August skies, you can take your pick from a superb selection of binocular and telescope targets. You will find Sagittarius, the Archer, lying almost overhead, providing a feast of objects to observe such as M17, the Omega Nebula, which is a good target for a small telescope. It is a glowing cloud of hydrogen gas resembling the Greek letter Omega (Ω). To its southwest lies Scorpius, the Scorpion. 

If you have a telescope, the Lagoon Nebula makes a wonderful target in Sagittarius, and with a larger telescope with a wide enough field of view you can also glimpse the Trifid Nebula, M20. Its name means ‘divided into three lobes’. M20 is an unusual combination of an open cluster of stars – an emission nebula, a reflection nebula and a dark nebula.

Two interesting open clusters – M6 and M7 – are nestled among rich star fields in Scorpius, and both are visible to the naked eye in an average dark sky location. Looking south of Scorpius is the constellation Ara, where you will find NGC 6188 – aka the Fighting Dragons of Ara – and the bright open star cluster NGC 6193, visible to the naked eye, which is responsible for a region of reflection nebulosity within NGC 6188.

The star field M24 in Sagittarius makes a great binocular target. Looking northwards, you will find the planetary nebula M57, or the Ring Nebula. It is an interesting target for a small telescope, as is the larger planetary nebula M27, or the Dumbbell Nebula, in the constellation Vulpecula, the Fox.

On August 28, asteroid Ceres will be at opposition and can be viewed with binoculars. Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and the only dwarf planet located in the inner solar system. 

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the August 2020 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.