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UFP Stellar Cartography – August 2023

This month we are treated to two “Supermoons”, Mercury at its greatest Eastern elongation, Saturn at opposition, and the spectacular Perseids meteor display.

By WoorLord Wed 09 Aug, 2023 1:37 PM
Welcome to the first edition of the UFP Stellar Cartography, a rolling monthly article that’ll cover all the interesting tidbits in the world of backyard astronomy!

August is also traditionally a lovely time of the year to stargaze, as it usually involves warm clear evening summer skies. Well, at least here in the UK, nothing could be further from the truth so far this year, as the jet stream’s more southerly placement is making it feel colder, cloudier and much wetter than normal. But don’t be deterred – when breaks in the clouds appear, get outside, and look up - there's plenty to see.

The Moon (Luna)
This month we will see two Supermoons bookending the month on the 1st and 31st of August.

A super moon occurs because the Moon travels around the Earth in an elliptical orbit. This means that there are times when the Moon is closer to the Earth than at other times. It's closest point is called its perigee (221,500 miles away) and its furthest point is called its apogee (252,700 miles away).

When the Moon is at perigee and it coincides with it also being either a Full Moon or a New Moon, it is called a Supermoon. A Full Moon at perigee will appear approximately 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than a Full Moon at apogee. But you probably won’t be able to notice the difference.

Planetary observations
This month is truly all about the Gas Giants, with good opportunities to see both Jupiter and Saturn throughout the month, but I’m getting carried away – let’s start with the inner planets.

On August 9th, Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation, which means it is as far East from the sun as it's going to get. Sadly, it is at such a very low angle it will be very difficult to see. All is not lost, however, on the 18th of August, about 30 minutes after sunset, go somewhere with little or no light pollution, with an unobstructed view to the Western horizon. You should be able to see the slim crescent moon, dim little Mars just below that, and then below that - twinkling in the muted light of dusk, will be Mercury.

Venus will be visible in the morning 30 minutes before sunrise low to the horizon from the 21st of August. As the month progresses it will rise higher in the sky until towards the end of the month when it will be visible from about an hour before sunrise, 10 degrees or so above the horizon nestled in the constellation of Cancer.

Mars is not having the best month viewing wise, it's just always in the wrong place at the wrong time and quite dim, so I would give the red planet a miss this month.

OK, time to make some room for the giants of the Solar System, this month is really all about them. Up first the king of them all –
Jupiter. Visible after midnight, you really can’t miss him rising in the Eastern sky. By far the brightest thing up there, rivalled only by the Moon. If you have some decent binoculars take a look – you should be able to make out at least 3 of Jupiter’s moons.
Jupiter's 4 largest moons are called the Galilean moons, named after Italian Astronomer Galileo Galilei who first observed them back in 1610. Individually named Io, Europa, Ganymede and Calisto, they orbit the planet roughly every 2 to 17 days, and can be visible with a good pair of binoculars. If you manage to get your hands on even a small telescope, you will be able to make out the clear banding within the atmosphere and the shadows of the moons as they transit across the face of the planet.
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Stealing the show this month is Saturn, reaching opposition on 27th August. Whilst not as bright as Jupiter due to it being smaller and several hundred million miles further away, it is perfectly placed for a great show of its rings through a small telescope, as shown in the image here, which was taken by my friend Trent who owns a small back garden observatory call Boreal Edge Observatory in Edmonton, Alberta. This image was taken on August 4th, using a Celestron CPC1100 telescope.

The Cassini division(A very large gap between in the inner and outer rings) in the rings, and the bands of gas on the planet itself are clearly visible. If you’re trying to find Saturn in the night sky this month, try looking south from about midnight on the 27th, find Aquarius with its bright star Sadalmelik – Saturn should be easy to spot just down and to the left of that.

Neptune & Uranus
Neptune and Uranus are both visible northern sky objects in August, but due to their distance away almost impossible to spot without a telescope. Uranus is currently in the constellation of Aries, high in the Southeastern sky, almost level with the Pleiades star cluster, and is best viewed an hour before dawn - but viewing conditions would need to be near perfect with a good set of binoculars to see much of anything. Neptune is currently an evening object best viewed long after the sun has set - look towards the constellation of Pisces and bring a hefty telescope - there's a reason this planet was only found via clever use of mathematics.

Meteor showers
August is the month for the greatest meteor shower of them all, the Perseids.
By far my favourite meteor shower, the Perseids will peak on or around the 13th of August with estimates of 1 meteor per minute an hour before dawn. Don’t think you have to get up early to see any however, you can start viewing days before and after and still catch part of this celestial firework display. The remnants of comet Swift-Tuttle, these microscopic grains of dust strike the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 miles per hour – after which they burn up harmlessly in the night sky. My top tip for viewing, find a dark area, grab a deckchair, set it up facing East (use a compass on your phone if you’re unsure), and then lay back and look up. The radiant point (the point in the sky they appear to come from) is in the constellation of Perseus - which is how they got their name. Remember – make a wish on the first one you see!

Here's what to expect if you're lucky.

Next Months Preview
Next month Stellar Cartography will be back with a breakdown of the Harvest Moon and Autumnal Equinox (when the skies stay darker for longer) and other fascinating information!

What did you think of this first edition of UFP Stellar Cartography? Let us know in the comments below.

IMAGES SOURCED FROM Boreal Edge Observatory - -
Wed 09 Aug, 2023 10:53 PM
Thanks for sharing Woorlord. Really interesting to see what’s happening in the sky around now. Would have completely forgotten about the Perseids is not for this so glad I checked and now I can keep a look out for them. Hopefully I can stay up late (or get up early enough) to spot a few this year.
Thu 10 Aug, 2023 8:10 AM
Thanks for sharing Woorlord. Really interesting to see what’s happening in the sky around now. Would have completely forgotten about the Perseids is not for this so glad I checked and now I can keep a look out for them. Hopefully I can stay up late (or get up early enough) to spot a few this year.
Awesome RavenSplat - glad it was useful. As I said in the piece, they are my fave, and the best for viewing. If you can stay awake (or get up early) the dawn peak is just magical. The glow of impending sunrise with a star every other minute or so... totally worth it.