Hello stargazers! We are just past mid-summer; September is looming around the corner but fear not – we have another lovely month of summertime stargazing to enjoy before the sun-soaked (for some) season fades away. Stargazing during August will be best at around 11pm, after you have given your eyes around 20 minutes to adjust to the low-light conditions. The start and end of the month will be better times for stargazing due to the full moon present in the sky mid-August – however you should not discount the middle of the month as there is a lot to see!

To kick off August we have the return of the Perseids meteor shower; this is best viewed the nights of the 2nd and 3rd of August during the “moonless” night sky. This yearly meteor shower is caused by the earth passing through the debris of the comet Swift-Tuttle. The mix of ice and dust burn up in our atmosphere creating a scintillating display of light. It will resemble a collection of shooting stars – expect to see around 5 every hour! Make sure you are facing the North of the sky to view this meteor shower.

This composite image is made of several exposures shot at Sunset Crater, Arizona, over nearly 2 hours on the morning of August 12, 2016. The image shows 48 Perseids — including two spectacular fireballs — and 5 sporadics (meteors not associated with the Perseids, identified by the trails not in alignment with the majority). Jeremy Perez , Sky & Telescope

The stars (or… Planets plus satellite) of the show in August will be Jupiter, Saturn and, our lovely natural satellite, the Moon. Jupiter and Saturn have been features of the night sky all summer long however August is a great time to catch a glimpse of a show put on by the aforementioned trifecta! As demonstrated below, Saturn, the Moon and Jupiter will align beautifully in the night sky side-by-side over the weekend of the 9th – 11th August. The Moon will appear to be directly in the middle of the two gas giants on the 10th August, but the 11th will be a treat for anyone looking to spot Saturn’s rings through a telescope as the moon will be just to the right hand side of the ringed planet. Also visible will be the 4 Galilean Moons of Jupiter.

Moon between two Saturn and Jupiter, 10th August. Credit: Stellarium

High in the South-West of the August Sky will be the constellation of Hercules. The central region is easiest to pinpoint first as it looks a bit like a flowerpot whilst the entire constellation slightly resembles a squashed spider. In the image below we can see the artwork of the famed Hercules wrestling Hydra the water monster.

Hercules wrestling Hydra. Credit: Stellarium

Of particular note this time of year is an object that lies within the upper left hand side of Hercules (in his armpit); globular cluster Messier 13. A small telescope will let you see a fuzzy blob of light; you will require access to a larger telescope to see the individual stars in the centre of this cluster. M13 is a spherical collection of very old stars, all about a light year apart. However, this cluster is at times so densely packed that stars do occasionally collide! Don’t worry though, it’s 22,200 light years from Earth so no collisions for our Sun.

“A vast sea of stars”: Globular cluster M13 (image credit: via NASA)

An interesting object to look out for in the North-West of the August Night Sky lies within Ursa Major, The Great Bear, famed for containing the asterism of The Plough. Just dipping below The Plough we have an exciting Nebula visible with a telescope – M97; dubbed The Owl Nebula. Astronomers call it as they see it; Pierre Méchain called M97 The Owl Nebula because it looked a bit like an owl with their early telescopes – a strange owl for sure (see below).

Brackets marking out location of Owl Nebula. Credit: Stellarium
Early sketch of Owl Nebula by William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, using the Leviathan Telescope he built at Birr Castle in County Offaly.

If all these celestial goings on aren’t enough for you, you can also track the whereabouts of the International Space Station (or ISS). Visible as it drifts across the night sky between the 12th of August of the 23rd of August you are sure to spot it! It will move slowly across the sky – you might mistake its light for starlight until you see it moving! For detailed information on when to view the ISS from your exact location, check out NASA’s spotthestation.nasa.gov

The ISS seen in a long exposure photograph. The trail indicates it is moving while the camera shutter was open Credit: EarthSky.com

Well I hope this has inspired you to get stargazing as there is plenty to see in August. Wave hello to the ISS if you see it!

Written by Courtney Allison, Education Officer

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