August is normally the warmer month of the year in the northern hemisphere, and despite its very short nights at higher latitudes, it still provides the best conditions to observe or capture some Lonely Photons. This year, August boasts two planets at oppositions, the most beautiful meteor shower of the year and a Blue Moon! Let’s see what are the main events of the month.
August 2 – Saturn at Opposition. August couldn’t have a better start, as the ringed planet will be at its closest approach to Earth, reaching the brightest peak of the year. This is the best time to observe or image Saturn and some of its moons, and this beginner guide to planetary imaging may come in handy!
August 8 – New Moon. The term “New Moon” indicates the phase of our natural satellite in which only the side not lit by the Sun is “visible” from Earth; this happens cyclically, when the Moon is located between Earth and the Sun. This is the best time for DSOs astrophotography, as there is no moonlight brightening the sky and faint details in galaxies or nebulas become more visible.
August 12-13 – Perseids Meteor Shower. The Perseid meteor shower is arguably the most beautiful and iconic of the year. Although this runs from mid-July to end-August, this meteor shower this year reaches its peak intensity on the night between the 12th and 13th August, with up to 60 meteors per hour! To observe this event, you only need your eyes and a dark sky; a telescope, in fact, would reduce the field of view giving a hard time to spot a meteor.
August 19 – Jupiter at Opposition. After Saturn’s close approach on August 2, it’s now the turn of another Gas Giant: Jupiter, with its 4 Galilean moons, will be at opposition on August 19 and will shine brighter than any other time of the year. This is the best time to observe or image Jupiter and its famous features such as the Great Red Spot, so this beginner guide to planetary imaging may come in handy!
August 22 – Blue Moon. Ever heard of the expression “once in a Blue Moon”? Well, this has its roots in astronomy: normally, there are three full moons in a season but once every few years (2.7) this number raises to 4 and the extra full Moon is dubbed a Blue Moon! Native American tribes used to give different names to each full Moon, normally based on the period of the year. This month’s Full Moon was known among some tribes as the “Sturgeon Moon” referring to the season when large fish were easily caught. Other tribes referred to this Full Moon as the Green Corn Moon and the Grain Moon.
DSOs in August. August is typically a good season to image Lonely Photons coming from large, beautiful nebulas; some of the most beautiful this month are the Elephant Trunk (IC 1396), the Lagoon Nebula (M8) and Trifid Nebula (M20), the Swan Nebula (M17), the Veil Nebula complex, the North America Nebula (NGC 7000), the Crescent Nebula (NGC 6888) and the Flying Bat and Squid (Sh2-129).