Quantcast

August Astronomical Highlights: Summer’s Best Meteor Shower

Science
The Perseid meteors shower shot In Aug. 12, 2016, in Inner Mongolia China. Bjdlzx / Getty Images

By Kelly Kizer Whitt

August is the time to sit back, relax and enjoy the free show overhead.

The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most prolific annual meteor showers and the only one that occurs in the summer. The Perseids can produce up to 100 meteors an hour at their peak, which is around Aug. 11/12. Skies will be nice and dark thanks to a new moon on Aug. 11, which will make it easier to see even the faintest streaks. Find a location away from trees, buildings and light pollution, and look up to catch the fast-moving meteors as they burn up upon contact with our atmosphere. These meteors come from the Great Comet of 1862, Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.


Parade of Planets

A sky full of planets continues to entertain us in August. The brightest and closest planet, Venus, drops low in the west and sets not long after sunset. Jupiter trails behind Venus in the southwest, setting four hours after sunset at the beginning of the month and disappearing more quickly by the end. Venus mingles with the moon on Aug. 13 and 14, and Jupiter gets a visit from the moon on Aug. 16 and 17.

Saturn is low in the south, floating before the stars of the Milky Way. The Ringed Planet lies in Sagittarius, close to some stunning star clusters and nebulae. The moon will come into the picture on Aug. 20, brightening the Milky Way environs, so try a couple days before or after this date if you want to hunt down deep-sky delights near Saturn.

Mars reached opposition in late July, one of its closest approaches to Earth in a number of years. The bright, reddish-orange color of the planet should still be unmistakable in the south-southeast. A planet-wide dust storm has been extinguishing our view of features of the Red Planet, but during calmer weather it's possible to spy white wisps of polar caps and clouds on the Martian planet through backyard telescopes. The moon passes Mars on Aug. 22 and 23, and it hits full phase on Aug. 26 at 4:56 a.m. PDT. August's full moon is sometimes called the Sturgeon Moon.

Double Transit on Jupiter

Get out your telescope or binoculars on Aug. 23 to catch the double shadow transit on Jupiter. The timing of the event will depend on your location, so start looking after it gets dark to see if the eclipse is already in progress or about to begin. The dark shadows of Io and Europa will pass in front of Jupiter over the course of more than an hour. The first shadow to enter onto Jupiter is Io's, while the one that tags behind is Europa's. Look for the four Galilean moons arrayed out to one side of the planet. Callisto is farthest away with Ganymede near it. Close in to Jupiter are Europa and then Io, which is the closest of all. If you are able to watch early enough, you'll get to see Europa and then Io appear off the limb of the planet after they have passed in front of Jupiter.

A partial solar eclipse is on tap for August, but it can only be seen from northern Asia and Europe. The next eclipse that will be visible to viewers in the U.S. is a total lunar eclipse in January.

Chance at a Comet

It's 4 a.m. in early August and you can't sleep. What to do? Grab a pair of binoculars, go outside before the sun rises, and find the northeastern horizon. Look to see if the constellation Gemini has emerged above the horizon yet (actual time of rising depends on your location). If you aren't familiar with Gemini and its bright "twin" stars, look for the better-known constellation of Orion rising in the east and then scan the horizon to the left (north) until you see the bright pair of stars, one above the other. From August 4 to 6, a brightening comet known as C/2017 S3 PanSTARRS will be traveling between the top star, Castor, to the bottom star, Pollux. If the comet increases in brightness as predicted, you won't even need the binoculars to see it.

The comet will stay close to the horizon, reaching perihelion on Aug. 15, when it should be at its brightest. However, a surprise outburst in July, which gave it a quick brightening and greenish hue, may have knocked the stuffing out of its August showing. Unfortunately, mid-August is also when the comet is closest to the horizon and the rising sun, which might wash out your view. But if you're awake, it's worth taking a look. Perhaps it will have another surge as it gets to within just .21 AU from the sun, a final hurrah, before it most likely disintegrates.

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

David Gilmour performs at Anfiteatro Scavi di Pomei on July 7, 2016 in Pompei, Italy. Francesco Prandoni / Redferns / Getty Images

David Gilmour, guitarist, singer and songwriter in the rock band Pink Floyd, set a record last week when he auctioned off 126 guitars and raised $21.5 million for ClientEarth, a non-profit environmental law group dedicated to fighting the global climate crisis, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue speaks during a forum April 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong / Getty Images

The Trump administration ratcheted up its open hostility to climate science in a move that may hide essential information from the nation's farmers.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Zero Waste Kitchen Essentials

Simple swaps that cut down on kitchen trash.

Sponsored

By Kayla Robbins

Along with the bathroom, the kitchen is one of the most daunting areas to try and make zero waste.

Read More Show Less
Protestors and police stand on ether side of railway tracks. dpa / picture-alliance

Police have cleared 250 climate activists who stayed overnight at the Garzweiler brown coal mine in western Germany, officials said Sunday.

Read More Show Less
Cecilie_Arcurs / E+ / Getty Images

By Megan Jones and Jennifer Solomon

The #MeToo movement has caused profound shake-ups at organizations across the U.S. in the last two years. So far, however, it has left many unresolved questions about how workplaces can be more inclusive and equitable for women and other diverse groups.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Cigarette butts are the most-littered item found at beach clean ups. John R. Platt

By Tara Lohan

By now it's no secret that plastic waste in our oceans is a global epidemic. When some of it washes ashore — plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers — we get a stark reminder. And lately one part of this problem has been most glaring to volunteers who comb beaches picking up trash: cigarette butts.

Read More Show Less

Andrea Rodgers, second from the right, takes notes during a hearing in the Juliana v. U.S. case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon on June 4. Colleague Elizabeth Brown sits to her left, while colleague Julia Olson sits on her right, with co-council Philip Gregory on Julia's right. Robin Loznak / Our Children's Trust

By Fran Korten

On June 4, Andrea Rodgers was in the front row of attorneys sitting before a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court. The court session, held in Portland, Oregon, was to determine whether the climate change lawsuit (Juliana v. United States) brought by 21 young plaintiffs should be dismissed, as requested by the U.S. government, or go on to trial.

Read More Show Less
Seventy Extinction Rebellion protesters were arrested outside The New York Times building Saturday. SCOOTERCASTER / YouTube screenshot

Seventy Extinction Rebellion protesters were arrested outside The New York Times building Saturday as they demanded the paper improve its coverage of the climate crisis, Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less