Night sky highlights - August 2017

ROG Opening Times

Important Notice for the 31 December: The Royal Observatory North (Flamsteed House) and Meridian Line will open to the public at the later time of 11:30. The Astronomy Centre and Planetarium will open as normal at 10:00.

Discover what you can see in the night's sky this August.   

This month, have a look for meteors in the annual Perseids meteor shower.

(Details given are for London and may vary for other parts of the UK.)

2 August - The waxing gibbous moon will be at apogee. This means that the Moon is at the point in its orbit furthest away from the Earth. This month, the Moon and Earth will be approximately 405,025km apart- that’s about 10.1 times the circumference of the Earth at the equator!

7 August – The full moon will occur on this evening and although many people may assume it’s the best time to view the Moon, it’s often dazzlingly bright at this time and there are few shadows cast by the crater walls so details on the Moon can be difficult to see.

12–13 August - One of the best annual meteor showers – the Perseids, will peak on the night of the 12th and early morning of 13th August. With a rate of around 100 meteors per hour you should be able to spot a few even in the light of the waning gibbous moon. The Perseids (caused by the comet 109/P Swift-Tuttle) are visible this time of year because it is the point where the orbit of the Earth and the orbit of the debris belonging to the comet Swift-Tuttle coincide. This debris is also known as a meteor stream.

21 August - There’s a total solar eclipse on this day which unfortunately will only be visible from a few states in the USA. It’s been dubbed “The Great American Eclipse” and totality will last for 2 minutes and 40 seconds. If you fancy flying to America to see it, I’m afraid you might be out of luck - hotels have been booked by sky watchers for the past year and a half!

21 August – In the early morning, before sunrise, you can have a look for Venus and Pollux. Pollux is the brightest star in the constellation of Gemini and is the closest giant star to the Sun – just under 34 light years away. Venus will be 7.3o south of Pollux in the eastern sky, and these objects will be close together for a lengthy period of time.

25 August - The Moon will be 7o north of Spica on the 25th and Jupiter will be close by too. They will be very close to the western horizon, visible for just a short while after sunset. Spica is actually a binary star system. The stars are so close together though that not even telescopes can split them apart. Instead, the system was detected by the Doppler shift in the absorption spectra of the stars; as a star moves away from us its light is red shifted and when it moves towards us the light becomes blue shifted.

29 August - Look to the south-eastern sky just after sunset to spot the star Antares below the last quarter moon. Antares is also a part of a binary star system. The one visible to the naked eye is the red supergiant Antares A and the smaller (but hotter) blue-green star is known as Antares B. Antares B is ten times more massive than our own sun, but can only be seen using a telescope. On the same night, have a look for Saturn too - it will appear to the east (or left) of the Moon.

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Get prepared for stargazing

When looking at faint objects such as stars, nebulae, the Milky Way and other galaxies it is important to allow your eyes to adapt to the dark – so that you achieve night vision. Allow 15 minutes for your eyes to become sensitive in the dark and remember not to look at your mobile phone or any other bright device when stargazing. If you are using a star app on your phone switch on the red night vision mode.

Need a stargazing telescope or decent binoculars? Check out our range of high-quality observing equipment recommended by Royal Observatory astronomers:

See our range of observing equipment

Daytime Venus Watch

Look at Venus through our Great Equatorial Telescope in the daytime and find out more about this beautiful planet and its place in our developing understanding of the scale of the universe every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday up until 24th August.

Join us for Daytime Venus Watch

Share your astronomy pictures

Don’t forget to share your pictures of the night sky with us on Twitter @ROGAstronomers or via Facebook

See more of the night sky

Come on an amazing tour of this month’s night sky in our Sky Tonight live planetarium show

See the Sky Tonight planetarium show

Central image: Flash Point © Brad Goldpaint