Jupiter and Saturn reach opposition, so it’s a great time to peek at these gas giants. As Jupiter reaches opposition, we get to see a lot more transits of its moons and their
shadows across the planet - as you’ll see in a bit.
And of course, August is famous for the Perseid meteor shower one of the best of the year.
Ganymede occults Europa 11pm. You will see the Moon catch up with Europa covering part of it, which will then pull away from it due to the relative motions of the moons, a
pretty cool thing to see.
Have a peek around the bottom limb of the Moon and you may spot a few cool features including the straight wall - a linear fault on the Moon, in the south eastern part of the Mare Nubium.
This morning’s 2:00am crescent moon sits not far from the bright blue cluster of stars known as the Pleiades or seven sisters - around 444 light years away, in fact making
a triangle between itself the cluster and the lower star Aldebaran. A lovely contrast of colours with the blue cluster a red star and the bright white Moon.
Saturn is at opposition tonight where its rings will appear brighter in our sky through binoculars and a telescope. Although low, you should still make it out really well. Its rings will be tipped down towards us. Give it a few more years and in 2025 they will nearly be edge on making them look to disappear.
The morning crescent moon has moved sitting just above the bulls eye - the red star Aldebaran - which is part of the 'V' shaped Hyades cluster representing the bulls head. Lying around 151 light years away, it is said to be the 7 brothers of the Pleiades, which is now above right of it from around 2:00am.
Morning as the 12% lit crescent moon rises, it will be just by the open cluster M35, moving slowly farther away from it up to sunrise. M35 is a lovely open cluster great through binoculars with the added bonus of also having a small globular cluster pretty much in the same view.
In the morning, Jupiter's Moon callisto will be eclipsed by the planets shadow at 3.22am. As it passes behind Jupiter, it will seem to dim or disappear as it passes into the gas giant's shadow.
Keep an eye out for the very thin 2% moon just after 4:00am. See if you can spot it before sunrise - being careful not to look at the Sun.
For the morning, pop back to Jupiter to watch Europa virtually disappear this time from Ganymede’s shadow, as it covers the moon from 4:37am - 5:44am.
The evening crescent moon will be to the right of Venus just after sunset. They will be low on the horizon, but still bright enough to be seen by eye.
The Moon will have passed Venus and will be slightly high up to its left as the sun sets this evening.
The peak of Perseid meteor shower, 10:00pm - 11:00pm through to dawn - although they say the nights of the 11th and 12th through to dawn are well worth staying up for. Talk more about this for our naked eye object of the month below.
Naked eye challenge to see if you can spot the faint Mercury and Mars just after sunset. This will be a challenge as the Sun will still be lighting up the sky, but a low western horizon. You may spy these planets, probably for the last time for a while. Don’t mistake it for the brighter Venus.
It's Jupiter’s turn to be at opposition tonight and as a bonus look early this morning and you will see its moons IO and Ganymede are really close together as it rises with them slowly getting farther apart over the course of the morning.
The morning provides another look at Jupiter around 2:50am and you may spot IO and its shadow crossing with the moon then overlapping its own shadow across the planet’s surface.
Another transit tonight 9:15pm - 11:35pm. IO and its shadow will cross Jupiter again if you missed it before. So lots of opportunities to see some of these awesome transits. This evening’s full moon will so look great rising up from the horizon.
As Jupiter rises this evening you’ll get a double bubble with the moons Ganymede and Europa transiting the planet, providing a great photo opportunity.
And the last transit of the month goes to IO and Ganymede along with their shadows, starting around 9:00pm ending around 4:22am. So a whole host for you to try and spot.
Minor meteor shower Aurigids, although active between 28th August to 5th September, peaks between 10:15pm - 11.:5pm tonight. They are said to only produce 6 per hour, but this shower has produced bursts up to 50 - 100 per hour. With the moon rising just after the peak time we may get a good view. Although Auriga itself rises from 10:00pm with the radiant rising around 11:00pm, your best bet is a low clear North-East horizon looking towards the star Capella, where you may see them streak over you.
The Moon is out of the way for objects of the month.
Meteors or shooting stars happen every night, but a shower is a special event where the amount you can see increase dramatically. We have these yearly all through the year, but some,
like this month’s Perseids produce more than others.
To understand why we need to start by looking at comets a particular comet called, Swift Tuttle, named after those that discovered it. Mr Swift and Mr Tuttle, Yep if you find something in space you get to name it.
A comet is like a huge snowball orbiting our Sun. This one has been going round for hundreds probably thousands of years. As it does, it heats up as it nears the Sun and this causes a trail of dust and ice. Periodically Earth moves through these immense dust trails or lanes left by comets and sometimes asteroids as we orbit.
As we pass through these tiny pieces of comet dust enter our atmosphere at awesome speed, technically burning up in our atmosphere creating a streak of light across our skies - which is really awesome to see - especially as the Perseids have been known to create the odd fireball where larger pieces literally pop across the sky leaving a smoke trail.
How do we see them?
Beauty of this event is you don’t need any equipment. Just grab a coffee or hot choc grab the kids and go out into your garden, or a nice dark field and look up. The peak of the shower happens on the nights of 11th and 12th moving into 13th until dawn, but we entered the dust stream in July and won’t leave it until the end of August. So the shower of meteors slowly builds up each night to its peak, then slowly dwindles back to normality.
These fixed events like the Perseids are named due to the location in the sky from where the meteors radiate. The Perseids are named so because they seem to come from the constellation Perseus - in fact, from around the ancient hero’s head.
Perseus rises pretty much from when the sun sets. I’d say around 10:00pm onwards to the North East, Cassiopeia the vain queen is the sideways West in the sky, Perseus is just below this.
What can we expect to see?
Well every year they predict 100 - 120 an hour but, your never going to see this amount I’m sorry to say, because of light pollution. The Moon which just sets this year as the peak starts but, I personally have laid on a field with my wife and counted 67 in around an hour and a half, but it's an unpredictable dust lane left by a comet with dense areas within it. So you never know.
So while your out looking up, just think your seeing pieces of a comet burning up in our atmosphere as our planet passes through its path and it only takes one slightly larger piece to create a stunning display that you’ll remember for ever.
Find the bright blue star Vega in the constellation Lyra the harp. It's easily found being right up high this time of year and being one of the brightest stars. Just to its left are a pair of stars known as Epsilon Lyrae. What appears as one star to the naked eye actually turns into into two through binoculars. Pop a scope on them and each star in that pair turns into a further two, making four stars. In the mid-1980s, astronomers using advanced imaging techniques detected a fifth star in that system as well. These five stars are bound together by gravity and are around 162 light-years from us.
The Iris Nebula (NGC 7023) is a bright reflection nebula in the constellation Cepheus, This means that its colour comes from the scattered light of its central star. Located some 1,400 light-years away from Earth, the Iris Nebula’s glowing gaseous petals stretch roughly 6 light-years across. In photos it has a lovely blue-white glow to it.
Clear skies guys, and remember... there’s a billion worlds in your back garden!