August can be a spectacular month so far as the night sky is concerned. A picturesque parade of planets stretches across the southern sky in the early evening. From beautiful Venus in the west, through giant Jupiter and duller Saturn to the glorious red planet Mars. We also have one of the main meteor showers of the year, the Perseids.
The Plough lies north west with the ‘W’ of Cassiopeia at the same height in the north east. The four stars that make the square of Pegasus are becoming more noticeable in the north east and the summer triangle of stars Altair, Deneb and Vega are still very dominant in the summer sky. Arcturus is dropping to the west while Antares is now past its best.
The southern part of the sky is still taken up by the formless Hercules, Ophiuchus and Serpens. Yet more dull constellations are appearing low in the south east; these are Capricornus, and Aquarius, and although both lie in the zodiac there is nothing else to recommend them.
Over the past few months the evening star has been a familiar sight after sunset. Now brilliant at magnitude –4.3, Venus is sinking down into the western twilight. Setting at 10.15 pm at the beginning of the month, and as early as 8.45 pm by the end of the month. Venus will be close to the crescent Moon on 14th of August. It will be close to Spica on the 31st.
Jupiter in the south west can be located in Libra. It is fainter than Venus at magnitude –2.0, however it appears just as prominent because we observe it in a darker sky. The gas giant is setting around 11 pm. Mid August it lies close to a double star called Zubenelgenubi.
To the left of Jupiter is Saturn. At magnitude +0.3 in Sagittarius. It sets about 1.30 am.
The last in the line of bright planets this month, Mars lies in the south east, in the dull constellation of Capricornus. It sets around 3 am. The red planet starts the month at a strong –2.7 magnitude, and fades as the month progresses to –2.1.
Neptune, at magnitude +7.8 lies in Aquarius, rising about 9 pm. Its followed by Uranus at 10.30 pm at magnitude +5.8 in Aries.
Towards the end of this month you mat locate Mercury very low in the eastern dawn twilight about 5 am. Between 21st and 31st August, the innermost planet brightens dramatically from magnitude +1.0 to –0.7.
Comet Giacobini-Zinner, is visible through binoculars in the latter half of August. Its predicted to reach magnitude +7.0 by the month end.
The most anticipated meteor shower of the year, the Perseids will peak on the night on August 12/13 when around 80 meteors per hour can be seen, although many meteors will be seen a day either side. This year however, the Moon will spoil the display after it rises at midnight.
The Perseids are connected with comet Swift-Tuttle which was discovered by Lewis swift and Horrace Tuttle in 1862. The comet takes 133 years to orbit the Sun. However the meteor shower has a very long history.
Phases of the Moon for August
Last Quarter 4th August
New Moon 11th August
First Quarter 18th August
Full Moon 26th August