A month to star gaze

news: A month to star gaze

WELCOME TO the August night sky.

This month is the traditional holiday month, when more people are outside and actually notice ‘things’ in the night sky. I always get calls in August about odd sights “up there” and they very often turn out to be bright meteors or “shooting stars”.

August is especially blessed with these and perhaps the best known of the periodic meteor showers is the Perseids, which occurs normally on August 12. This year, it is Friday night and the first Quarter Moon will set around midnight, so the sky should be dark. With luck, we should see one “shooting star” per minute after midnight and about one every five minutes before midnight. The Perseids meteors are dust from the tail of a comet called Swift-Tuttle and, sometimes, leave long trails in the sky that can last several minutes.

In the western sky, just after sunset, we now have a wonderful view of the bright planet Venus. This planet, when visible in the western sky, is often called “the evening star”. On August 7, the thin crescent Moon is close to Venus low on the horizon.

At the end of the month, the planet Jupiter is also close to Venus. Jupiter will be the fainter of the two and will be a pale yellow colour, while Venus will be sparkling white. Also, by the end of the month, the red planet Mars raises in the east at midnight and the Moon will be close on the 24th.

The Moon is new on August 5, first quarter on the 13th, full on the 19th and last quarter on August 26. The full Moon this month is at its closest point to Earth, so will appear slightly larger than normal.

• Clive Jackson is the director of the Astronomical Observatory of Tavira (Sítio do Malhão) and the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach. Tel281 321 754, Fax 281 324 688, email [email protected] or visit http://www.cdepa.pt