Welcome to the August night sky. This is one of the best months of the year for night sky-watching as we have warm nights and noticeably more hours of darkness in comparison with June.
On the 12th, we have the peak of the well-known and most reliable meteor shower, the famous Perseids. This shower has been followed by many centuries and is usually reliable. These falling stars are fine dust grains from the tail of comet Swift-Tuttle. As with all periodic meteor showers, it is best visible after midnight.
The summer Milky Way continues dominating the night sky when seen from dark location. Low on the southern horizon, the centre of our galaxy is visible in the early evenings represented by the dense star clouds of the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius.
The brilliant planet Venus is now very low on the western horizon at sunset in the constellation of Leo. The two gas giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, become the brightest objects to be seen in the evening sky. Both planets are in the constellation of Capricornus situated between Sagittarius and Aquarius.
Jupiter is the brightest of the pair and Saturn will be seen to shine with a slightly yellow colour. Usually, planets do not twinkle like stars do, so this will aid in their identification. Saturn comes to opposition on the 2nd and Jupiter on the 19th – on these dates they will be at their brightest.
Through any small telescope, Saturn is always an amazing sight, especially as the rings are still tilted towards us. This planet’s most famous asset is its ring system, which is made up of billions of ice particles mixed with a small quantity of dust and rock.
Saturn has 53 Moons that have an official name and many more that now are unnamed. The largest Moon is Titan that is, in fact, larger than the planet Mercury and the only Moon that has a dense atmosphere.
One of Saturn’s Moons is called Enceladus, which may be an enormous, captured comet and potentially have a sub-surface saltwater ocean suitable for microbial life.
A small telescope will show at least half dozen faint moons around Saturn, and Titan is visible even with large binoculars.
The Moon is new on the 8th, first quarter on the 15th, full on 22nd and last quarter on August 30.
By Clive Jackson
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Clive Jackson is the director of the Camera Obscura attraction (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.
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To see the August Sky Map click on the pdf link below