A U G U S T S K Y W A T C H
by Maya del Mar
The night sky is nearly empty of planets this August. Jupiter low in the evening western sky will sink into the suns glow before the month is over. But come early morning, glorious Venus and yellow Saturn will grace the pre-dawn skies. Venus is chasing Saturn, and by the end of the month, just as Pluto turns direct, she will reach her conjunction with Saturn amid the spectacular backdrop of the winter constellations.
Venus climbs through the edge of the constellation of Orion, into Gemini, the Twins. She meets Saturn just below Pollux and Castor, the Twins, for a late month, early morning treat. Saturn and Venus, very chummy now, have the same longitude as Pollux, a fixed star considered to have Martian influence.
The big show during August is the Perseid meteors, the best meteor show of the year. This year viewing is especially good because a waning moon leaves a nearly-dark sky. There are expected to be a multitude of meteors, or "shooting stars" radiating out from the constellation of Perseus.
To see the Perseid meteor show, look northeast around 2 a.m. on the night of August 11-12. There will likely be hundreds of meteors visible in Europe and Asia, but the Americas should see many as well. You might want to go to bed early on the 11th, and then get up at 1 a.m. on the 12th to watch for meteors. Stay up a bit, and you can watch Saturn, and then Venus, rise. Somehow the planets look especially awesome in the morning sky.
Meteors are debris left in the track of a comet. Their light comes from the vaporization as they hit the earths atmosphere. The Perseids track the comet Swift-Tuttle, during its 1862 return to the inner solar system. The nights of August 10-11 and 12-13 may also show increased rates of meteors.