BACKYARD STARGAZER: In August, a Blue Moon and meteors

By Francis Parnell

In August, we have a few conjunctions, an annual meteor shower and a “Blue Moon” that isn’t the second full Moon of a month! On the 1st, the ringed planet Saturn is at opposition, 830,560,135 miles from Earth and is visible all night. Opposition means that a planet is directly opposite the Sun in our sky at night. Earth catches up with Saturn every 378 days. A small telescope at 40-power shows the rings! At dusk on the 10th, look west to see the crescent Moon and Venus 5 degrees apart. The annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaks on the night of the 11th and early morning of the 12th. Under dark skies (no light pollution) up to 100 meteors per hour may be seen. But with our increasing light pollution, we might see 30 to 40 per hour. The Perseids are fast: 134,000 mph! Look northeast at 11 p.m. and you might see a few, but the best time for viewing is after midnight until dawn when the radiant is high in the sky. On the 19th, brilliant Jupiter, the king of the planets is at opposition, 372,752,786 miles away. It’s also visible all night. A small telescope at 40-power will let you see cloud belts and the four largest moons. We catch up with Jupiter every 399 days. Some 45 minutes after sunset on the 20th, the Moon rises in the southeast with Saturn about 5 degrees above it. Looking southeast on the 21st after sunset, the almost full Moon rises with Jupiter about 5 degrees upper left. Watch the full Moon rising on the 22nd; it’s also a Blue Moon! But it isn’t the second full Moon of a month. The original meaning of a Blue Moon is the third full Moon in a season that has four. This summer season has four! So enjoy the “classic” Blue Moon. Read more at skyandtelescope.org/observing/what-is-a-blue-moon/ The stars belong to everyone, so “Keep looking up!”

Author: Rachel Howell

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