High summer is now with us and the Milky Way arches overhead this month, looking ever more resplendent as the skies grow darker. Set against its glowing band, three brilliant stars, Vega, Deneb and Altar mark the corners of the Summer Triangle. We are treated to two supermoons this month, the second being the brightest full Moon of the year. Also we have Saturn at its best and a spectacular display of the Perseid meteor shower.
This is also the time of year to look at the southern constellations and the Galactic centre of the glorious Milky Way.
The constellation of Sagittarius is supposed to be a centaur. That’s a mythical half man/half horse creature, carrying a bow and arrow. Good luck spotting the centaur in the stars!
But these same stars also make up what sky watchers call the Teapot in Sagittarius; and the Teapot is simple to spot. The Teapot is an asterism in the western part of the constellation. It’s best viewed during the evening hours from about July to September. Best of all, when you’re looking toward the Teapot, you’re also looking toward the centre of our Milky Way galaxy.
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.
An indication that summer is drawing to a close is the return of Orion the hunter in the eastern pre dawn sky. Sometimes called the ‘Ghost of the shimmering summer dawn’. If you’re up early and have an unobstructed view to the east, be sure to look in that direction in the hour before dawn, The Hunter, recently behind the sun as seen from our earthly vantage point and now ascending once more before sunrise. The Hunter rises on his side, with his three Belt stars; Mintaka, Alnitak and Alnilam pointing straight up. This August, there’s a very bright object not far from the Hunter, also in the east before sunup. It’s the planet Venus. Watch for them both.
The innermost planet reaches its greatest separation from the Sun on 10th August, but as far as observation goes it will be lost in the glare of the Sun.
Venus reappears in the dawn sky in the last week of August. Rising about 5am. The Morning star is resplendent at magnitude – 4.2.
The red planet it to close to the sun for observation this month.
The gas giant is rising over the horizon around 11pm. It will be in the constellation of Aires. It dominates the rest of the night sky, with a brilliant magnitude of –2.5. The Moon is nearby in the morning skies of 8th and 9th of the month.
This is the ‘Planet of the month’, visible all night long and reaching its closest point to the Earth at opposition on the 27th of this month. Residing among the faint stars of Aquarius contrast makes its modest magnitude of +0.5 seem the more impressive. If you have a telescope, view the planets rings in all their glory. You will also see Saturn’s giant moon Titan. A satellite so big it has an atmosphere denser the Earth’s air. The Moon is nearby on the 2nd and 3rd of the month and the ‘blue supermoon’ sails right under Saturn on the night of the 30th to 31st of August.
Not far from Jupiter to the left of the gas giant, you will find Uranus in the constellation of Aries, on the boundary with Taurus. The seventh planet rises around 11pm, and shines at magnitude +5.7.
You will need a pair of binoculars to spot Neptune lurking in the constellation of Pisces. It is very faint with a magnitude of +7.8, and will be on view all night.
This distant planet can be observed in a ten-inch or larger telescope. It can be found in the constellation of Sagittarius. With a magnitude of +14.3 it descends below the horizon about 3.15am.
The largest object in the asteroid belt can be located in the constellation of Virgo this month. At magnitude +8.88 it falls below the horizon about 10.30pm
1st August – The full ‘Sturgeon Moon’ will be a supermoon.
2nd and 3rd August – The almost full Moon will be close to the planet Saturn.
8th August – The last quarter Moon will be right next to Jupiter after midnight.
9th August – The half Moon will be between Jupiter and the Pleiades star cluster.
10th August – The half Moon will be just above the star Aldebaran, with the Pleiades star cluster to the upper right.
18th August – The thin crescent Moon will be near the planets Mars and Mercury. With the help of binoculars you will see Mars just to the left of the narrow crescent Moon, and Mercury below in the twilight glow.
21st August – The crescent Moon is near to the star Spica.
24th August – The first quarter Moon is near the star Antares.
30th August – The almost full Moon is near to the planet Saturn.
31st August – In the early hours of the morning, the Moon is at its most brilliant this year, lying close to the planet Saturn. This supermoon is only 30% brighter than the faintest full Moon. As the second full Moon of the month, it will be hailed as the ‘Blue Supermoon’.
He nights of the 12th and 13th August will be the maximum of the Perseid meteor shower. It will be an excellent year for observing the usual abundance of fast, bright shooting stars. 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.
Phases of the Moon :-
Full Moon 1st August
Last quarter 11th August
New Moon 16th August
First quarter 24th August