Three Big Skywatching Events to View With Your Family in August
As I am sure many parents are aware, August marks the point in the summer in which our families’ and our children’s summer vacation routines grow stalest. It’s also full of opportunities for even the most amateur observer to take in some big skywatching happenings without the aid of a telescope. Shake up that routine and budget a late bedtime one night this August for one of the following sky events. Any of these simple observing targets could be an unforgettable memory for you and your child:
- Aug. 10 – The “Super Moon.” While the "Super Moon" isn't a huge sky event because Full Moon isn't the best time to view the Moon (it’s difficult to see any of its surface details during that time), it does garner lots of attention. Aug.10 features the largest Full Moon of 2014, which occurs because this Full Moon happens at the same time the Moon makes its closest approach to Earth on its elliptical orbit.
- Aug. 12 – The peak of the Perseids meteor shower. A popular meteor shower each year, the Perseids will feature plenty of visual fascination with “shooting stars” the night of Aug. 12. Find your way to a spot away from city lights, look the opposite direction of the Moon, and take in these stunning space rocks.
- Aug. 18 – Venus and Jupiter come together. The two brightest planets — Venus and Jupiter —will make a spectacular pair before dawn in mid-August. Catch those two as they appear close together in the eastern sky, and then stay up for a beautiful sunrise 30 minutes later. Saturn and Mars will line up in a less impressive but still colorful union that you can view through binoculars during August’s final two weeks. Closing out the month, on the 31st, a crescent Moon joins the scene in the western evening sky.
If none of these specific dates works for your family, though, there’s still plenty to look at in the August moonless sky at the end of the month. At this time of year, the band of our galaxy, the Milky Way, rides high overhead by 10 p.m. local time. Take your kids away from city lights for a spectacular view they won’t soon forget, and see if they can point out some of the most popular star patterns summer has to offer: the Northern Cross of the constellation Cygnus, the W of Cassiopeia, the Teapot of Sagittarius, or even the Summer Triangle, composed of some of the season’s brightest stars, Deneb, Vega, and Altair. And before you know it, Labor Day will be here.
To learn more about skywatching and all things astronomy, please visit astronomy.com.