The lights are out, the stars are on! With our city’s brightest flashes of lights, 200 public buildings that no longer lit up all night may be a small part of improving the starry sky, but it’s the first step toward saving the night. In August together as we watch the stars from the balcony, the backyard, or the last undeveloped open space in Berlin, we seek cosmic new beginnings in nights that are finally getting longer again.
The beauty of the sky is surrounded by many earthly influences. Light pollution is a factor in the success of the observation. But it is even more important that the atmosphere above us allows us to see the universe through clouds. Right now the earthly season presents exciting events. Storm clouds roll in, lightning flashes in the sky, long-awaited rain floods the streets.
cloud swirls in hexagon shape
However, Earth is not the only celestial body in the Solar System whose atmosphere is wreaked by storms; The star map shows two of them, Jupiter and Saturn. A giant storm field has been observed on the giant planet Jupiter, which we find in the constellation Cetus for more than 350 years! The casually named Great Red Spot measures 1.5 times the diameter of Earth and has measured wind speeds of 600 kilometers per hour. After all, the largest planet in the Solar System, as a gas giant, consists primarily of hydrogen, helium and all the other components that make chemistry lessons in school exciting. Despite the planet’s size, it rotates within a few hours, allowing changes in the planet’s cloud bands to be observed in binoculars in just one night. Jupiter rose on August 1st at 10:47 pm and at the end of the month at 8:47 pm.
It is actually a bit quiet in the atmosphere of the ringed planet Saturn, which can be found in Sagittarius in August. After sunset, Saturn is already pointing south. Saturn will set at 6:46 am on August 1st and at 4:35 am on August 31st. At the north pole of the planet – also a gas giant – there is an unusual system of storms and clouds rotating in the shape of a hexagon. With a wind speed of just 320 kmph, it is the size of this 10,000 km diameter storm system that impacts. In comparison, Earth, with a diameter of just over 12,000 kilometers, appears only slightly larger. On August 14, Saturn will be opposite the Sun, so it will be directly opposite the Sun in the sky and can be seen throughout the night.
The star chart shows the sky later in the night: at midnight on 1 August, at 11 p.m. on 15 August, and at 10 p.m. on 31 August. Above us is the constellation of the Great Bear as a continuous guide to the Pole Star: the part of the constellation we know as the Big Dipper. If you connect the two rear stars of the car body and extend this line five times, you will reach the Polar Star. If one makes the shortest relation to the horizon, we find the north direction. If we extend the imaginary line beyond the Pole Star, we reach Akash-W, the constellation Cassiopeia.
The nights of August are getting longer and there is more time to see the constellations. To the south, high in the sky, is the Summer Triangle, consisting of the stars Vega in Lear, Atair in Eagle, and Deneb in Swan. Swan is by far the most influential constellation. Described as the “Northern Cross”, the swan’s plumage and elongated body are very easy to guess. As an ancient musical instrument the harp is designed as a small parallelogram, the eagle requires a great deal of imagination.
Even the stars are not always calm. After all, suns are fireballs made of bubbling gases, inside which hydrogen fuses into helium or even heavier elements. Giant stellar power plants send light and heat to their planets. Our Sun is subject to an eleven-year cycle of activity. If our Sun is more active, we measure more explosions, flames and prominences. These solar storms shoot charged particles toward Earth. Thanks to the magnetic field of our planet, we are well protected. However, some particles find their way to Earth’s north and south poles and produce the breathtaking northern lights.
Thanks to the missing atmosphere, the Moon comes from millennia without stormy times. The position of the Moon in its elliptical orbit around the Earth and the interaction of light from the Sun give rise to the phases of the Moon. The full moon lights up on the night of 12 August, the diminishing crescent can be seen in the morning sky of 19 August when the moon disappears as a new moon on 27 August. Without wind and weather, without erosion, it is the countless craters that testify to the contextual and turbulent history of the Moon over billions of years.
Best between 10 pm to 4 am
August is the month of the stars! The Perseid meteor shower is visible throughout the month, with maximum expected on the night of August 12-13. Then there could be a hundred shooting stars per hour if the nearly full moon didn’t outpace the many weaker meteors. Shooting stars are formed from dust released by tail stars, such as Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle in this case, and which burn up to 3000 °C upon entering Earth’s atmosphere. On Earth, we see a channel of hot air as a glimpse of its existence, like a shooting star burning so hot that it makes the air glow. It is worth visiting a dark observation spot – preferably between 10 pm and 4 am!
The cloudless view of the stars has opened the gates of the universe to us emotionally and intellectually. As astronauts, we traverse the vastness of space, learning about the characteristics of our planet and yet the stars in danger. More and more light in our cities is finally able to completely take over our view of the starry sky and thus we are depriving future generations of a world view that is ingrained in the earthly hectic motion and cosmic cycle of some Earthlings. Classifies perceived importance.
Author Zeiss is the director of the Planetarium and Aarkenhold Observatory.