Although the nights are still short they are slowly lengthening. This August will be a spectacular month so far as the night sky is concerned.
If you have wanted to spot all eight planets of the Solar System in a single night, here is your chance. You can’t miss Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in the evening sky, and a good pair of binoculars will assist you to find distant Uranus and Neptune. If you stay up until 4.30am you can add the inner plates Venus and Mercury to your collection. To bag the final planet, just look beneath your feet.
We also have one of the main meteor showers of the year, the Perseids, mid month. However this year the display is spoilt by bright moonlight.
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.
Though they are both fading as the Earth draws away, the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn still dominate the skies to the south. Both located in Sagittarius and dropping below the horizon about 3am. Jupiter to the right, is much the brighter of the two at magnitude –2.6.
Fifteen times fainter at magnitude +0.2, Saturn still outshines the surrounding stars. Use binoculars to spot Jupiter’s four large moons. A telescope will bring Saturn’s biggest moons and its iconic rings into view.
Mars is rising in the east around 10.30pm in Pisces. The Red Planet brightens from magnitude –1.1 to –1.8 as the Earth speeds towards it.
You will need good binoculars or a telescope to spot Neptune, at magnitude +7.8 in Aquarius. Rising about 9pm.
Uranus is just on the borderline of naked-eye observation. At magnitude +5.7. It rises around 10.30pm in Aries.
Venus is growing ever more conspicuous in the morning, as it draws upwards into darker skies. Blazing away at magnitude –4.3, the Morning Star moves above the horizon about 2am. Through binoculars or a small telescope you can see the shape of Venus change as August progresses, from a crescent to a half-lit globe.
During the first half of the month, look low in the north eastern morning twilight to spot elusive Mercury. At magnitude –1.2, the innermost planet rises around 4.20am and lies below the fainter Castor and Pollux. On 9th August Mercury passes in from of M44 The Beehive cluster.
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.
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 :-
Full Moon 3rd
Last Quarter 11th
New Moon 19th
First Quarter 25th