This month will hopefully have pleasant weather and allow us to go stargazing at night. While the days are still long and less harsh than the winter months, it will be easier to see the stars later, when it is darker. So at least we might have an excuse to stay up a little later to see the constellations in the night sky. It is a good idea to get somewhere out of town to avoid the light pollution and it will probably take 20-25 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Being a little out of town will help to reduce the effect of light pollution, and hopefully let us see more in the night sky.
There are lots of bright stars placed into constellations; we do recognise eighty-eight (88) in total. The patterns can be different between different cultures and countries, but one thing that is constant is that we all use the brightest stars for the constellations, since they are the stars that are more easily seen.
So, now that we know what the constellations are, we are going to have a look for a few of them.
Looking south at the start of the month you will be able to see part of Sagittarius, or at least the asterism called the Teapot. This constellation points towards the centre of our galaxy and is the reason that the black hole in the middle is named after the constellation (Sagittarius A*). Sagittarius is named after the mythical creatures called centaurs. The top half being a person with a bow and arrow, while the bottom is the body of a horse. While this constellation is big, we won’t be able to see all of it since it is partly below the horizon. So, to see more of it you will have to move closer to the equator and look up.
Another constellation to look out for is Perseus, a hero from Greek myth. To find it, took to the East and if you can spot Jupiter then you are close. It will be just a little higher and to the left. The Pleaides are below it, only one constellation over in Taurus. Perseus is a constellation that would be easily forgotten if it weren’t for a certain yearly event, a meteor shower!!!
Deep sky and other objects
On the 13th we will have the peak for the Perseids meteor shower. They are named so because they come from the direction of the Perseus constellation, from our perspective on Earth. It will be easier to see in the darkest parts of the night. So, maybe it is an excuse for a late night or an activity for those who enjoy camping during the summer. Meteor showers do occur often, but we usually only notice the most active events when a lot more meteors enter the atmosphere. If you are somewhere that is truly dark, then you may be treated to a fireball or two. Luckily, the moon won’t be a factor in this as it will be in the New Moon phase. Which means that there will be a lot less light pollution, at least from our nearest celestial body.
Jupiter is back in the night sky – you will have to look to the East early in the month. It will be just above the horizon a little after midnight. The gas giant was out of sight for a few months, but now it will be visible for another while. Saturn will also be visible around the constellation of Aquarius. By the end of the month these planets will still be visible in the Eastern part of the sky for most of the night. While we can see the light reflecting of the planets with the naked eye, we can possibly see more with the right equipment. Some telescopes will allow us to see some of the moons around Jupiter and the rings of Saturn.
We will have a look for the Andromeda galaxy now. It does look like a smudge in the sky, but it is the farthest thing we can see with just our eyes. Even with a small telescope it would still be a smudge, so don’t worry that you can’t see the details of the estimated one trillion stars (that’s 1,000,000,000,000). For context, the Milky Way galaxy (our galaxy) is estimated to have up to 400 billion stars, less than half of what we think is in the Andromeda galaxy.
We will have two full moons in August. The first full moon will be in the evening of the 1st of August and the next will be on the 31st of August very early in the morning. This is, in part, because of the time it takes for the moon to orbit the Earth. But it’s not exactly that simple…bear with me. *inhales* The Moon takes about 27 days to orbit the Earth, but you might notice that our two full moons are 29 days apart. This isn’t sorcery, but science can explain it. This difference is, in part, because the Earth is ALSO MOVING. We are orbiting the Sun at a high speed. This means that while the moon is orbiting it must overtake us to reach the same phase it was in a month ago. This leap-frog manoeuvre takes an extra couple of days end up with us having seen all phases of the moon.
Names are often given to the full moon in particular months. For August it will be the Grain moon as it will be leading into harvesting season. The second full moon phase does also have a name, a Blue Moon. Leading to the saying “once in a blue moon.”