The best of astronomy this month: Catch the peak of the Perseid meteor shower on the 12th - 13th August.
By Dhara Patel, Astronomy Education Officer
(Details given are for London and may vary for other parts of the UK).
Top 3 things to see this month:
Throughout the month - Spot Mars and Saturn in the south around midnight.
12-13th Aug - Catch the peak of the Perseid meteor shower.
14-17th Aug - Look for the crescent moon passing Venus, Spica and Jupiter in the south-west after sunset.
Look Up! Podcast
As well as taking you through what to see in the night sky each month, Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomers pick their favourite astro news story. For August, they're chatting about the discovery of 12 new moons around Jupiter and how scientists have identified the source of a neutrino for only the third time ever. Have a listen below then vote for your favourite news story on our Twitter poll during the first week of the month.
Our podcast is available on iTunes too - search Look Up! and rate us if you enjoyed listening!
This summer we have had a parade of all of the naked eye planets visible each night. That is beginning to come to a close now with Mercury passing too close to the Sun to be visible this month. However Venus will be visible for a while yet over to the west shortly after sunset. Mars and Saturn are still very well placed to be seen around midnight in the south. And finally Jupiter, which is slowly setting earlier and earlier each night, makes for a fantastic target with a pair of binoculars or even a small telescope. Look out for its large Galilean moons as they fly around Jupiter, changing position from night to night.
There’s plenty to see in deep space too this month. The band of faint light that is the path of our Milky Way galaxy is high in the sky. It is interrupted by the Great Rift, a dark rend in the Milky Way’s path which is actually a vast cloud of gas far off in our galaxy blocking our view of its light. About 2000 lightyears from the Sun is the Ring Nebula, visible to a small telescope in the constellation of Lyra almost directly above our heads throughout August. This is the remnants of a star like our own Sun that came to the end of its life, leaving behind a vast cloud of rapidly expanding gas and a tiny, compact object the size of the Earth known as a white dwarf.
This month's main event will be the Perseid meteor shower. Underway from all the way back to the 13th July, it will peak around the 12th and 13th August when it could be possible to see as many as 100 meteors per hour. In reality, you're likely to see far fewer especially if you don't have dark skies and optimal viewing conditions. This particular shower comes from debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. Visible throughout the night, you can also wait until just after midnight for the best time to see them. In any case, fill your view with as much of the sky as possible and wait. With a bit of luck you may be able to spot a fireball in amongst the normal meteors, one that shines brighter even than the planet Venus.
Following the spectacle of the total lunar eclipse last month, we won’t have anything quite as dramatic to watch this month. There is a partial solar eclipse, but unfortunately it won’t be visible from anywhere in the UK. However if you do happen to be holidaying in northern Asia or Russia on the 11th, consider using a pinhole camera projection or solar eclipse glasses to see up to half of the Sun be covered by the Moon. While you would think this would make the day seem substantially dimmer, in reality due to how our eyes work, the change in light level is unlikely to be noticed by those who aren’t aware the eclipse is taking place.
While Asia is experiencing a partial solar eclipse, we here in the UK will be unable to see the Moon at all during its new moon phase. Over the following week, the Moon will pass close to Venus, the star Spica and Jupiter on the 14th, 15th and 17th of August respectively, all during its crescent moon phase. This is the ideal time to see the features on the surface of the Moon placed in stark contrast by the long shadows at the terminator, the line between the light and dark sides of the Moon. Look towards the west after sunset to see a view of the Moon that changes nightly as it grows towards full Moon on the 26th.
The Moon's phases this month
- 4 Aug - last quarter moon (6:18pm)
- 11 Aug - new moon (9:58am)
- 18 Aug - first quarter moon (7:49am)
- 26 Aug - full moon (11:56am)
The winners of this year's competition will be annouced on 23 October 2018.
- 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 can achieve better 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're using a star app on your phone then 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:
Share your astronomy pictures
Congratulations to Gary Ashton for his beautiful image of the night sky. He shared his image on our astrophotography Facebook page and we chose it for August's banner image.
If you want to be in with a chance to showcase your astrophotography skills on the banner of next month's night sky blog, share your photos via our Royal Observatory Astrophotography Facebook group
You can also connect with us on Twitter @ROG Astronomers
Hubble Vision - new gallery exhibition
Come and see some of the most spectacular images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in our new free exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
Be the first to see the gallery when it opens on 4 August 2018.
See more of the night sky
Come on an amazing tour of this month's night sky in our Sky Tonight planetarium show delivered live by a Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomer.
Central image: © Gary Ashton
Resources for teachers and students
In preparation for September and starting a new school year you may want to have a look at some of the things that the Royal Observatory learning team have created:
- Free animated videos that answer the biggest questions in astronomy and free resources to go alongside them.
- A whole host of podcasts featuring interviews with real space scientists, astronauts and active researchers working in UK Universities.