By Mike Glazier
I hope you are enjoying the summer nights and that you have been able to take advantage of the clear skies of late.
Not too much in the way of planetary observations will be possible during August, simply because of the poor positions of most of them. I will however list them simply for information purposes. The main player this month will be the Perseids but I will say more on this meteor shower later.
Mercury. is too close to the Sun passing into inferior conjunction on 26th
Venus. On 26th of August this planet which is normally known for its brilliance, will live up to its name for a while ‘glaring down ‘ at magnitude -3.9. Unfortunately, it will be close to the star Pollux, in Gemini only for short while in the dawn sky before moving too close to the Sun.
Mars This planet also suffers as it moves from Cancer into Leo and becomes yet another member of our solar system to move too close to the Sun as to become eventually invisible.
So we are to lose for a while, three members of our solar system.
Jupiter This wonderful planet which just loves showing off its moons, will move slowly eastwards towards Spica in the constellation of Virgo, and may be ‘glimpsed’ low down to the West during the first few days of the month.
Saturn The well known ‘ringed planet’ will be at magnitude 0.2 – 0.4 in Ophiuchus. Its yellowish hue will give it away and become an aid to identification while trying to avoid any mix-up with any nearby stars.
Uranus at a rather miserable magnitude of 5.8 – 5.7 will be located with the use of a planet finder ( map) in Pisces.
Neptune at 7.8 magnitude for the more determined observer is in Aquarius.
So, there is not really much to write home about when it comes to observing the planets in August.
Cygnus the Swan will be almost overhead with Deneb in the tail or at the head of the CROSS (the constellation is known also as the Northern Cross).
Deneb is one of the stars forming the so-called Summer triangle, once this easy configuration is found, note the bright star towards the South, this is Altair the lead star of the Eagle Aquila.
The bright white star almost overhead is Vega, the fifth brightest star in the northern hemisphere., it is lead star of the constellation of lyra, the magic harp in mythology. A search between the two offset stars below Vega will reveal M57 the famous ring planetary nebula.
The Perseids shower which is the one most famously associated with August is active over a long period, beginning in July but with a maximum on the night of August 12th into 13th. On rare occasions numbers can exceed 100 members an hour but limits are attributable to clear dark skies, good seeing conditions and the absence of a Moon. Unfortunately this year the dates fall on a waning gibbous phase which is not good news. However all is not lost because the Perseid shower does provide fast bright members and with the odd fireball thrown in. One of which I have seen.
The Perseid shower is associated with the great comet of 1862, Swift Tuttle.
Our closest neighbour in space will occult Aldebaran on 16th of August, but this event will only be visible from the East coast of America. From here it will be seen as a very close event. Full Moon is on August 7th. Last quarter on 15th, New Moon on 21st. First quarter on 29th.
Apogee occurs on 2nd of August and Perigee on 18th
Apart from the usual idea of ‘stargazing’ a term I hate to hear, the most comfortable and successful way of viewing the heavens is by means of a lounger, star atlas, red lensed torch and binoculars. It is amazing just how many satellites, double stars, clusters, star colours and galaxies (M31 Andromeda for example) you can see. A wide low magnification will reveal so many wonders of the night sky.
I hope you are all having a safe and happy Summer and that you do manage to get some observing time in.