Dark Skies August Update
The attached sky chart shows the mid-August skies for around 9.00pm BST.
Looking to the western horizon just after sunset, we have one of the two planetary groupings visible this month. The two inner planets of our solar system, Mercury and Venus, are joined by the gas giant of Jupiter. You’ll need a good low western viewpoint to catch this lineup, ideally a sea horizon. Those of you on the coastline will stand the best chances to observe this alignment. As always, if scanning the area with binoculars or telescopes, make sure the sun has set first!
Moving back to the south-western skies, Mars is rapidly closing the gap on the ringed planet Saturn. Around the 25th/26th August, Mars will be roughly inline with Saturn and Antares, making an interesting photo opportunity… clear skies willing!
With the Milky Way running almost north to south, this is a great time of the year for grabbing a pair of binoculars, lying back in your sunlounger and slowly scanning along the celestial “super highway” from Capella to the north, through Cassiopeia, down the Cygnus rift and into the star clouds of Scutum and Sagittarius to the south, taking in all the star clusters and galactic treasures on show.
Many people think that to “get into” astronomy, expensive equipment is needed. Not so; this is one of those “trips” that can really only be done with binoculars. This shows that “simple binoculars” are useful astronomical tools that, when coupled with a good sturdy tripod, enable anyone to become more involved in the astronomical world and start finding out about the wonders of our dark skies.
Indeed, if you’d like something even less “technical”, how about a sunlounger and just your eyes? … and some warm clothing by the way! The 12th to the 13th of the month is the maximum of one of the best meteor showers of the year: the Perseids. The moon will be just past first quarter at the time of maximum, so moonlight will reduce the visible rates slightly. Observe around midnight and the early hours for minimum interference, looking in the general direction of east and about halfway from the horizon to the overhead (or zenith) position. The Perseids – so called since the meteors appear to originate from the constellation of Perseus - can put on a show of up to 100 meteors per hour at best, so if your lucky, expect possibly a meteor a minute. Be aware that the meteors can appear some way from Perseus, so it’s best to keep your eyes/head slowly moving about the sky to catch these fast moving trails of light. As a point of information, the average size of these meteor particles that come shooting into our atmosphere and burn up due to friction, is roughly that of a grain of sand.
Good luck and clear skies to all.