©Photo special to The Guardian
Our fourth “super moon” of the year (there were two in January, one in July and one more in September) occurs on Aug. 10 at 2:43 p.m.
A ‘super moon” is defined as “a new or full moon which occurs with the moon at or close to (within 90 per cent of) its nearest approach to Earth in a given orbit.” The full moon occurs on Aug. 10 at 3:09 p.m., shortly after it reaches perigee. This month’s ‘super moon’ will be the closest full moon of the year, and will appear bigger and brighter than other full moons in 2014. For more information about “super moons” in general, and August’s “super moon” in particular, Google “super moons” or go to www.astronomy.com or www.skyandtelescope.com.
As darkness falls this month, both Mars and Saturn appear in the SW sky. These two planets (both at mag. 0.6) are slowly drawing closer to one another in their respective orbits around the sun. As August opens, Mars (to the left/west) and Saturn are approximately 10 degrees apart. From Aug. 20 to Aug. 29, they sit less than four degrees apart. On Aug. 27, Mars begins its slide beneath Saturn. Look for the pair above the SW horizon about an hour after sunset. You should have no problem identifying the pl—anets Mars, a reddish-orange, and Saturn a golden-yellow. On Aug. 31, the waxing crescent moon forms a triangle with the two planets.
Venus and Jupiter are heading towards the closest two-planet conjunction (apparent proximity of two celestial bodies to each other) of the year this month. The two planets begin their dance towards each other on Aug. 12, when Venus rises in the east about 4:30 a.m., followed 30 minutes later by Jupiter. On that date, Jupiter sits approximately six degrees to the lower left of Venus. As each day passes, they draw about 1 degree closer to each other. By Aug. 17, they are only 0.8 degrees apart. On the morning of Aug. 18, about 90 to 60 minutes before sunrise, look towards the eastern horizon. If you have an unobstructed view of the horizon, you should be able to spot Venus and Jupiter very close (within 0.2 degrees or less than half the diameter of the Full Moon) to one another just above the horizon. Venus (mag. -3.8) sits to the lower left of Jupiter (mag. -1.8). Depending on the seeing conditions of the sky at that time, you might catch a glimpse of M44 - the Beehive star cluster in your binoculars, just to the upper left of, and in the same field of view as the two planets. On the morning of Aug. 23, the two planets are joined by the waning, crescent moon.
Mercury (mag. -0.4) appears above the western horizon during the last few days of the month. On Aug. 27, about 30 minutes after sunset, Mercury sits about 10 degrees (width of your hand at arm’s length) to the right of the waxing, crescent moon. Because it is so low in the sky, you will need binoculars, clear skies and an unobstructed horizon if you hope to spy our solar system’s smallest and inner-most planet.
Unfortunately, this year’s Perseid meteor shower (radiant in Perseus - the Warrior Prince), due to peak on the evening/morning of Aug. 12-13, will fall victim to the bright light of the waning moon, just two days past full. Your best view of these famous meteors (remnants of Comet Swift-Tuttle) will be in the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 13. Face towards the N, and, if possible, put the moon behind you, or better yet, put a building or trees between you and the moon. One could normally expect to see about 100-plus meteors/hr, but with the interfering moonlight, that number will be greatly diminished, with only the brightest of the meteors being visible. The good news is that the Perseids appear from about July 17 until around Aug. 24, so on any clear night, you might just see a few of these bright meteors streaking across the night sky. The Perseids are famous for their fireballs, which strike the Earth’s atmosphere at over 224,000 kms/hour. Try to trace their path back across the sky to the Perseus constellation.
Until next month, clear skies.
Aug. 10 — ‘Super moon’ at perigee (closest to Earth); 356,896 kms.; 2:43 p.m.
Aug. 10 — Full moon; 3:09 p.m.
Aug. 13 — Perseid meteors shower peak; pre-dawn
Aug. 17 — Last quarter moon; 9:26 a.m.
Aug. 24 — Moon at apogee (farthest from Earth); 404,163 kms.; 3:09 a.m.
Aug. 25 — New moon; 11:13 a.m.
Glenn K. Roberts is a member of the Charlottetown Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). His column appears in The Guardian once a month. He welcomes comments from readers. Anyone who would like to comment on his column is encouraged to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.