THE SKY GUY: Perseid meteor shower will be harder to see this year

Dr. Rolly Chiasson is your Sky Guy. His astronomy column appears monthly in the Journal Pioneer.

Hi Sky Guys,

August is always a special month for me to write about, and it’s a special month for all of you to look up, too. That is because this is the month of the Perseid metor shower.

So, let us talk about meters for a bit. Firstly, there are meteoroids, mostly objects about the size of a grain of sand, but they can be larger, even much larger. These grains just “float” around out in space, usually fairly rare, although we occasionally, pass through the path of a comet. Then we can have many more of these grains of sand and I will discuss that later.

Now when we, the Earth, “bang” in to some or many of these meteoroids, they can swiftly heat up and leave a trail in the sky – a meteor. Most are brief little “flits” and you have to really watch for them, but occasionally they are prolonged and glorious, even leaving a trail in the sky.

If they are large enough and aimed at us, they can reach the Earth’s surface and are then called meteorites.

Now, how frequent are these meteors? Usually, we will have five to 10 per hour, but if we enter the path of a comet, where it had previously passed one or many times, the number can increase to 15 to 25 per hour, or as with the Perseids, maybe 80 per hour, or even higher. Then it gets exciting.

The Perseid meteor shower is usually seen on Aug. 12. That does not change. However, this year, the full moon is on Aug. 11 and that admittedly will blank out many of the dimmer ones. It can still be worthwhile, but it won’t be the great show as it is when the sky is dark. But give it a try and it slowly improves after midnight. If it isn’t as great as it could be, all we have to do is wait for the great Geminid Shower in December, or other somewhat lesser showers. Oh well!

So, what can we see in our night sky this August?

Well, the nights of August are the nights of the giant planets.

Saturn is basically up all night, rising at approximately 9 pm It can be seen in the south. For those with binoculars, you can see the largest moon to the north of Saturn on Aug. 5 and 21 and to the south of the planet on Aug. 13 and 29.

Jupiter, the giant of the giants, at the first of the month rises approximately one hour before midnight and rises earlier each night as the month passes. Jupiter is bright and easily seen lying in the east, well to the left of Saturn. Don’t forget, again with binoculars, to look for the tiny Galilean moons of Jupiter as they circulate around it during the month (Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede).

March next. It can be seen in the southeast further to the left of the bright Jupiter. Mars is as near to us during August as it will get this year, and thus is a little bigger and brighter. Mars will be seen, as last month, in the morning sky.

Although I do not usually discuss it in the article, Uranus, the next planet after Saturn in a distance from us, is probably easier to find than usual. It is in the southeast, rises in the morning at the same time as March and is an easy binocular object. If you look at Mars and then just slowly go north, you should come upon Uranus, of course much fainter than Mars.

Venus. It rises in the east approximately two hours before sunrise. It is spectacularly bright all month. As the month passes, it gets closer to sunrise, and you may have to concentrate to see it.

Finally, Mercury. It will be in the west in the evening sky. Unfortunately, although it is in the evening sky all month, it just hugs the horizon, and is thus difficult to see, and is not particularly bright.

Comet Panstarrs is still with us. Last month, it spent all month in the constellation Ophiuchus and begins August still there. Later in the month, it passes through Scorpius. It is a good binocular object yet. It has a tail.

It is interesting to note that Venus, on Aug. 17, will be just west of a very big open cluster of stars – the Beehive Cluster. This is easily seen with binoculars.

  • Full Moon – Aug. 11
  • New Moon – Aug. 27

That is it for another month.

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