Night sky guide for August 2016
The peak of this year's Perseid meteor shower, one of the most prolific annual showers, will be in "outburst" mode on August 11 and 12, the first since 2009. This means that instead of the usual 80 Perseids per hour, the rate could top 150 or 200 meteors. This meteor shower is famous for producing a large number of bright meteors.
The best time of the month to observe faint objects in the night sky is August 2.
The Moon will reach its full phase at 09:24 UTC on August 18.
Planet Saturn will appear to pass close to the Moon on August 12; Uranus will 'pass' close to it on August 22. Mars and Saturn will make a close approach on August 24, Venus and Jupiter on August 27.
Annular Solar Eclipse will begin at 06:13 UTC on September 1. The maximum point will take place at 09:01 UTC, and the annularity will last for 3 minutes and 6 seconds. The path of the eclipse will begin off the eastern coast of central Africa and travel through Gabon, Congo, Tanzania, and Madagascar before ending in the Indian Ocean. A partial eclipse will be visible throughout most of Africa and the Indian Ocean.
August 2 – New Moon – 20:44 UTC. The Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
August 11, 12 – Perseids Meteor Shower. The Perseid meteor shower, one of the most prolific annual showers, runs each year from July 17 to August 24. This year, it will peak on the night of August 11 and the morning of August 12. The waxing gibbous moon will set shortly after midnight, leaving fairly dark skies for what should be a spectacular early morning show. Perseids are famous for producing a large number of bright meteors, as well as their occasional outbursts. This is one such year when, instead of the usual 80 meteors per hour, we can expect the hourly rate to double or even reach 200. The last such outburst occurred in 2009. Observing geometry favors Europe at the onset, but increased activity for about half a day means that North America is also well-placed for observations. It is interesting to note that the 1993 Perseid meteor shower outburst is believed to be responsible for the ultimate loss of ESA's telecommunication telescope Olympus-1. In 2009, Landsat-6, an imaging satellite jointly managed by NASA and the USGS, lost gyro stability during the meteor shower's peak. The source of this meteor shower is comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. With its nucleus estimated to be about 26 km (16 miles) wide, Swift-Tuttle is the largest object known to repeatedly pass by Earth. The comet last passed nearby Earth in 1992, and the next time will be in 2126.
August 12 – Conjunction between the Moon and Saturn – 12:50 UTC. The Moon and Saturn will make a close approach, passing within 3°37' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -12.1, and Saturn at mag 0.1, both in the constellation Ophiuchus. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.
August 13 – M15 well placed for observation. The globular cluster M15 (NGC 7078) in Pegasus will be well placed for observation on the night of August 13. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of +12°10', it is easiest to see from the northern hemisphere; it can be seen at latitudes between 82°N and 57°S. At magnitude 6.4, M15 is quite faint, and certainly not visible to the naked eye, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.
August 14 – M2 well placed for observation. The globular cluster M2 (NGC 7089) in Aquarius will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -00°49', it is visible across much of the world; it can be seen at latitudes between 69°N and 70°S. At magnitude 6.5, M2 is quite faint, and certainly not visible to the naked eye, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.
August 16 – Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation, well placed for observation. The planet Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation of 27.4 degrees from the Sun on August 16, shining brightly at mag -1.8. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the evening sky. Look for the planet low in the western sky just after sunset. Over coming weeks, the distance between Mercury and the Sun will decrease each night, and it will gradually sink back into the Sun's glare.
August 18 – Full Moon – 09:28 UTC. At this time in its monthly cycle of phases, the Moon lies almost directly opposite the Sun in the sky, placing it high above the horizon for much of the night. The sequence of full moons through the year are often assigned names according to the seasons in which they fall. This month's full moon will be the second to fall in summer 2016 – the Grain Moon. Over the nights following August 18, the Moon will rise around an hour later each day, becoming prominent later in the night. Within a few days, it will only be visible in the pre-dawn and early-morning sky. By the time it reaches last quarter, a week after full moon, it will rise at around midnight and set at around noon. At the exact moment when the Moon reaches full phase, it will lie at a declination of -11°31' in the constellation Capricornus, and so will appear highest in the southern hemisphere. It will be visible from all latitudes north of 68°N. Its distance from the Earth will be 374 000 km (232 400 miles). This full moon was known as the Full Sturgeon Moon by early Native American tribes because the large sturgeon fish of the Great Lakes and other major lakes were more easily caught at this time of year.
August 19 – Comet 43P/Wolf-Harrington at perihelion. Comet 43P/Wolf-Harrington will make its closest approach to the Sun, at a distance of 1.35 AU.
August 21 – α–Cygnid meteor shower. The α–Cygnid meteor shower will reach its maximum rate of activity on August 21, 2016. Some shooting stars associated with the shower are expected to be visible each night from July to August. The maximum rate of meteors expected to be visible from a dark location is around 5 per hour (ZHR). The Moon will be 19 days old at the time of peak activity, and so will present significant interference in the pre-dawn sky.
August 21 – Asteroid 2 Pallas well placed for observation – 04:35 UTC. Asteroid 2 Pallas will be well placed for observation, lying in the constellation Equuleus, well above the horizon for much of the night. Regardless of your location on the Earth, 2 Pallas will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time.
August 22 – Conjunction between the Moon and Uranus – 11:28 UTC. The Moon and Uranus will make a close approach, passing within 2°52' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -12.5, and Uranus at mag 5.8, both in the constellation Pisces. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.
August 23 – Comet 43P/Wolf-Harrington reaches its brightest. Comet 43P/Wolf-Harrington is forecast to reach its brightest, at around mag 10.1, on August 23. It will lie at a distance of 1.36 AU from the Sun, and at a distance of 1.99 AU from the Earth.
August 24 – Conjunction between Mars and Saturn – 15:37 UTC. Mars and Saturn will make a close approach, passing within 4°21' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, Mars will be at mag -0.9, and Saturn at mag 0.1, both in the constellation Ophiuchus. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.
August 27 – Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. A spectacular conjunction of Venus and Jupiter will be visible in the evening sky. The two bright planets will be extremely close, appearing only 0.06 degrees apart. Look for this impressive pairing in the western sky just after sunset.
August 30 – 144P/Kushida at perihelion. Comet 144P/Kushida will make its closest approach to the Sun, at a distance of 1.43 AU.
Video courtesy Hubble Space Telescope
Sources: NASA-TRS, InTheSky (Dominic Ford), SeaSky
Featured image credit: Perseids by John Fowler (CC – Flickr)
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