Shooting Stars, Comets and Planets, Oh My! August Skies Full of Fire
August is upon us, and the fireballs have already started. No, we’re not talking about a heat wave. We’re talking about the Perseid meteor shower, which does not peak for another 10 days or so but is already producing fireballs.
"Despite poor weather over our network of meteor cameras, we have detected six Perseid fireballs since July 30th," said Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, to Spaceweather.com.
“Don’t wait until the peak nights to watch for the Perseid meteors,” advises Earthsky.org. “You can start watching a week or more before the peak nights of August 11-12 and 12-13, assuming you have a dark sky.”
The Perseid meteor shower is just one phenomena in a month that is setting the tone for the rest of the year. It’s the month Comet ISON, whose do-or-die plunge into the sun happens later this year, becomes visible in the night sky.
Mercury, Venus, Mars and several other planets will line up, cavort with the moon, and otherwise show off all during the month, Space.com reports. In particular, Venus and the moon will reprise their dancing role on Friday August 9, as Venus is the evening star, visible just over the horizon right after sunset. Saturn is not far behind, and its rings are visible with a small telescope.
"Early in the month, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury line up in the eastern morning sky," narrator Nancy Calo from the Space Telescope Science Institute said in a video about skywatching in August. "Mercury slips into the horizon by mid-month, while Mars and Jupiter rise higher in the predawn sky."
The moon will do its usual journey to fullness on August 20. Though it won’t fit any of the definitions of super, it will hold back until after the Perseids, allowing for an abundance of shooting stars.
But by far the best show of the month—of the year, even—will be the Perseids. More on them next week.
“The shower is just getting started,” said Spaceweather.com. “Rates should remain low for the next week as Earth penetrates the sparse outskirts of the debris stream, then skyrocket to ~100 meteors per hour as the calendar turns to the second week of August. Stay tuned for more fireballs.”