Midsummer Space Station and August Sights

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By Chuck Macpuzl

The International Space Station will be making evening passes through Santa Barbara’s skies from now into the first week of August. Its orbit is likely to change when the Crew Dragon capsule departs, so to get the latest and most complete predictions, visit Heavens Above.

On Tuesday, July 28, the ISS will make a low pass over our mountains, appearing in the NNW at 10:19 PM PDT in the nose of Ursa Major, and disappearing in the NNE below the W of Cassiopeia at 10:21 PM.

On Wednesday, its first pass will be a very low but longer version of Tuesday's trajectory, rising in the N at 9:32 PM, and fading away at 9:34 PM in the NE. It will return on its next orbit, popping up at 11:07 PM in the NW in the hind legs of Ursa Major, and vanishing in our shadow before reaching the bowl of the Big Dipper.

Thursday's pop-up will start in the NNW at 10:19 PM, passing through the shoulder of Ursa Major and fading away just before reaching Polaris in the N at 10:21 PM.

Friday will have a low mountain horizon pass starting at 9:31 PM in the NNW, from the nose of Ursa Major to dim Lacerta in the ENE at 9:35 PM.

To start August, the station will first appear in the N at 8:44 PM, again in the nose of the Great Bear, and disappear in the ENE at 8:48 PM just before reaching Pegasus. Then, it will pop up at 10:20 in the NW in the hind legs of the Bear, and climb into Coma Berenices, disappearing in the WNW at 10:22 PM.

The brightest pass of this sequence will be on Sunday, August 2, starting at 9:32 PM in the NW in the feet of the Bear, passing through the bowl of the Big Dipper, along Draco, the Dragon, and fading away near Albireo, the beak of Cygnus in the ESE at 8:47 PM. With binoculars or a telescope, you should be able to see that Albireo is a beautiful color contrast double star.

Monday's first pass will start at 8:44 PM in the NNW and be a lower version of Sunday's pass, setting in the ESE at 8:47 PM as the ISS nears the Moon. It will reappear at 10:21 PM in the W, making a low sweep from Denebola to the SSW at 9:36 PM, fading out between bluish Spica below and orange Arcturus above.

Tuesday's pass will be a bright one, rising at 8:44 PM in the NW in the feet of the Bear, cruising close by Arcturus, the Guardian of the Bear, tracing the two halves of Serpens, and setting in the Teapot of Sagittarius in the SSE at 8:50 PM.

Thursday will have the last ISS pass of this sequence, starting low in the W at 8:46 PM in Leo, and skimming the horizon below Spica and through Centaurus and Lupus to set below the tail of Scorpius, the Fishhook of Maui, at 8:50 PM in the S.

I hope you've all been getting nice views of Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE in the northwest after sunset. The comet will start August in Coma Berenices, left and below the handle of the Big Dipper. It will remain an early evening object, and should still be bright enough to detect with your unaided eyes from a dark site, but is getting dimmer as it moves away from us. Binoculars will give the best views. By August 7, it will be below Arcturus, heading into Virgo by the end of the month.

On August 1, a 97% illuminated Moon will make a nice triangle with Jupiter and Saturn in the southeastern sky. This month is prime time to observe the gas giants.

On August 3, Mars will be at perihelion. Rising between 11 PM and midnight, it is brightening and growing in apparent size as it heads for its close appearance and prime viewing in October. On the night of August 9, it will be in a close pairing with a nearly full Moon.

The annual Perseid Meteor Shower will peak for us on the morning of August 12, but will unfortunately be accompanied by a bright, just past last quarter Moon. It will still be worth looking for fireballs before moonrise on the nights before and after the peak.

At 9:15 PM PDT on August 14, you can catch the shadows of both Io and Ganymede crossing the face of Jupiter. If you miss it, you get another chance at 11:40 PM on August 21, same planet, same moons. You'll need a telescope.

Before dawn on August 15, catch a crescent Moon with brilliant Venus in the eastern sky.

On August 25, between about 4:35 PM and 7 PM, scan the Moon along the terminator to see the Lunar X, formed by the illuminated peaks of intersecting crater walls.

See a dwarf planet in binoculars on the night August 28 as Ceres reaches opposition in Aquarius, at a visual magnitude of about 7.7. Check skyandtelescope.org or your favorite planetarium app for a finder chart.

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