Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy and eclipses.
What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: August 10-16, 2020
Are you ready to go “shooting star”-spotting? Active since July 17, the Perseid meteor shower can bring as many as 100 “shooting stars” per hour on its peak night. In 2020, that’s Tuesday, August 11 into Wednesday, August 12.
That’s just the beginning of a great week for stargazing. As the week wears on it becomes one of the best weeks of the year to see the Milky Way in the run-up to August 19’s New Moon. From August 12 the Moon will be rising after midnight, giving you a few hours of dark skies just as the brightest part of our galaxy is arcing overhead.
With two of summer’s celestial treats in the same week, and some great views of Venus and the Moon to boot, a sparkling seven days of stargazing awaits!
Tuesday, August 11, 2020: Perseid meteor shower peaks
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Easily the most popular meteor shower of the year in the northern hemisphere, tonight is one of the best nights of the year to see “shooting stars.” It’s caused by dust and debris left in Earth’s orbital path by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which last entered the Solar System in 1992 and is due back in July 2126.
The Perseids can number as many as 100 per hour. Will you see that many? A rising Last Quarter Moon about midnight is going to bleach-out some of the brighter meteors, but there should still be plenty for patient eyes to spot.
Be outside before midnight. As well as some early “earthgrazers”—long-lasting shooting stars close to the eastern and western horizons—if you’re in a dark place away from light pollution you may also see the Milky Way arcing overhead in the south.
After midnight, to find shooting stars look at any part of the night sky, and keep looking! However, you’ll need clear skies; if it’s cloudy, you’re not going to see anything.
It’s also worth looking for Perseid meteors on Wednesday, August 12 into Thursday, August 13, and even the night after that. If there’s a clear sky this week, get outside and look up.
Wednesday, August 12 – Saturday, August 22: See the Milky Way
Did you manage to sneak a peak at our galaxy while out watching for Perseids?
The center of our galaxy looks spectacular in August, but the Milky Way is at its best when the Moon is down. That’s from tonight through August 19’s New Moon.
Look generally south, preferably while observing from somewhere away from light pollution and, crucially, somewhere where your view to the southern horizon isn’t going to have the glow from any town or city.
Thursday, August 13, 2020: Venus as a ‘Morning Star’ and Aldebaran close to the Moon
If you enjoyed seeing Venus dominate as an “Evening Star” for the first half of 2020, now is the best time to appreciate how much it’s now dominating as a pre-dawn “Morning Star.”
Always the brightest object in the night sky aside from the Moon, Venus today reaches its greatest elongation west.
That means it seems, from our point of view one Earth, to be furthest from the Sun in its current morning apparition, so it appears at its highest point in the pre-dawn night sky. Look above the eastern horizon about three hours before sunrise.
At 45.8° west of the Sun, it’s the highest in the night sky Venus will get during 2020.
If you’re up early enough to see Venus, do have a look for bright star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus, which will be a mere 4° from a 34% illuminated Moon.
Saturday, August 15, 2020: conjunction of a crescent Moon and Venus
This morning Venus will still be rising about three hours before the Sun, together with an 18%-lit crescent Moon (see above) that will seem closer to it the nearer it gets to sunrise.
Constellation of the week: Orion
Look to the east and, if you’re up earlier enough, you can also indulge in some good views of the winter constellations.
Most notably you’ll see the famous cold weather constellation of Orion rising on its side. Its bright stars, ruddy Betelgeuse and true blue Rigel, should both be just about visible. Between them will the Belt; above will be the constellation of Taurus and bright red star Aldebaran.
Further proof that although the stars change with the seasons, if you get up early enough you can cheat the system!
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. —
An asteroid the size of a school bus is headed our way, but NASA says the space rock will zoom safely past Earth on Thursday.
The newly discovered asteroid will come within 13,000 miles (22,000 kilometres) of Earth, well below many of the communications satellites orbiting the planet, scientists said this week. The closest approach will occur Thursday morning over the southeastern Pacific Ocean.
Once it’s gone, the asteroid won’t be back to Earth’s neighbourhood until 2041.
Scientists estimate the asteroid is between 15 feet and 30 feet (4.5 metres to 9 metres). By asteroid standards, that’s considered puny. Asteroids of this size hit Earth’s atmosphere and burn up once every year or two, said Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There could be as many as 100 million of these little asteroids out there.
The real threat are considerably bigger asteroids. The good news is that these are easier to spot much sooner than just a few days out.
Asteroid 2020 SW, as it is known, was discovered last Friday by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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