In August, the late summer nights are longer, giving us more time for observing. Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn are a beautiful spectacle by naked eye, binoculars or telescope, but the main event this month happens on the night of August 12/13. The Moon-free sky promises one of the best displays of the Perseid meteor shower in years. The Perseids is arguably the best meteor shower of the year. It has a high rate of meteors with a large number of bright ones. As a bonus, August nights are usually quite nice. The shower may peak the night of the 12th/13th, but as I’ve warned in previous columns, the nights leading up to the peak and following the peak can have quite a few meteors as the leading and following meteors of the swarm arrive – well worth going out and watching. The radiant for this shower is in the constellation Perseus. The best time for viewing is late in the evening as Perseus rises higher in the north eastern sky, culminating at dawn when it reaches its highest point. This year’s shower should present a rate of one to two meteors per minute at dark sights.
In the evening sky, Venus can be found in the west, Mars is southeast and Jupiter is in the northwest. Beautiful Saturn is in the south. By midnight, Mars has shifted to the south and Saturn is southwest. Although Mars reaches its peak in late July, it is the planetary star of August. If your telescope is large enough, you can make out surface features. Sadly, as August progresses, Mars’ brightness and size decreases. By the end of August, it is half as bright and about 13% smaller.
August 4: Last quarter Moon.
August 10: The Moon is at perigee (closest) – 356,000 Kms.
August 11: New Moon.
August 12/13: Perseid meteor shower – moon-free sky!
August 18: First quarter Moon.
August 23: Moon is at apogee (farthest) – 402,390 Kms.
August 26: Full Moon. It is known as the Full Sturgeon Moon. The Sturgeon is more readily caught during this month. The sultry haze in the atmosphere during this month can turn the Moon red and thus give it another name – The Full Red Moon. The nearness of harvest time provides two more names – Full Grain Moon and Full Green Corn Moon. Bon appétit!
Keep looking up!
“The Beginner’s Observing Guide by Leo Enright is an invaluable companion for adventures in the sky. It also contains useful star charts. It can be ordered from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada at www.rasc.ca/publications. A subscription to our very own excellent Canadian astronomy magazine, “SkyNews”, can be arranged at the RASC website as well.