August 6: Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE and A/2019 U6 Lemmon, and C/2017 T2 PanSTARRS meet in NW sky

These three comets are present in the same part of the sky within 10 degrees of each other for a few days around August 6. However, none will be bright enough to be a spectacle except to the camera. NEOWISE is around magnitude 6 now, Lemmon around 7, and PanSTARRS is 10. The last will be a challenge to spot in binoculars, perhaps a 15x70 pair will pick it out, but none will be visible to the naked eye. Still they would be within reach of long exposure image and a 100 mm telephoto should frame the group nicely.


August 11-12: Perseid meteor shower peaks

Over the Aug 9 to 13 interval, the annual August meteors, the "Tears of St. Lawrence," appear in larger numbers than the average 5 or 6 random shooting stars we get sporadically. The particles (called meteoroids) that produce the streaks of incandescence (called meteors) appear to come from a point in the constellation Perseus (the radiant), but only because the Earth in its orbit is moving into the stream of debris trailing behind a comet discovered in 1862, Comet Swift-Tuthill (109P/Swift-Tuttle). Annual meteor shower are produced by sand-grain sized particles with little or no larger pieces. Do not expect meteorites, the larger solid pieces of debris to drop down into a field near you; no meteor shower has been known to produce meteorites normally. Most meteorites are usually from large random pieces of space debris that encounter Earth.

The diagram below shows the view to the NE and Perseus at about 23:00 August 11.

Observers in a dark location could ideally see from 60 to 100 meteors per hour, but the radiant stays relatively low on the horizon during the best time to observe, before the last quarter Moon brightens the sky after midnight. This will reduce the numbers somewhat. Observers are encouraged to go on August 11, and observe until the Moon comes up, and repeat August 12 and 13 as the weather permits. The moon rises an hour later on August 13 so the viewing window is enlarged. In any case, moonlight will reduce the number of fainter meteors seen, but the Perseids have been know to produce "fireballs" that can be seen even in bright skies. Some leave behind glowing trails called "persistent trains." My most memorable Perseid produced a train that lasted for a dozen seconds and was visible in binoculars for eight minutes!

Meteor observing requires no special equipment. Just relax on a recliner, and keep warm with a blanket to ward off the chill and dew at night. Binoculars are also recommended if you want to watch those glowing trails. Meteors appear all over the sky, and the longer ones tend to show farther from the radiant. Viewing to the NE towards Perseus as it rises in our sky will "reveal" the radiant if you see enough trails. More details provided here: Watching Perseids and here: Sky & Telescope Meteors.

Photography is encouraged! This site provides hints on how: Imaging meteors.


August 28-29: moon, Jupter and Saturn group in the southwest

The 11-day-old Moon (two days before full) passes below Jupiter and Saturn tonight. The grouping will appear above the south and western horizon after sunset (20:06) and "hang around" until the Moon sets about 02:36 August 29. The moon is about 2° from Jupiter and 7° from Saturn. Even with the Moon nearby, Jupiter and Saturn are still bright (-2.6 and 0.3 magnitude, respectively) and look spectacular in a telescope.

The above image is used with the permission of Simulation Curriculum.

Venus, last crescent Moon near Messier objects August 14 and September 15

If you track Venus in the morning sky in August and September, you will see it pass through Gemini, Cancer and into Leo. Those constellations are the home of several well-known Messier objects. Near the start of August, Venus is near the Crab nebula (M1), and on August 9 it is closest to the open cluster M35 in Gemini. On August 14, the last crescent Moon joins the group. Then, in mid September, Venus passes below the Beehive Cluster (M44) in Cancer. The separations are not particularly close (about 2 to 3 degrees or so), but Venus, the Moon and the cluster will be a nice sight in binoculars or in an image. The diagram below shows the path of Venus from August 1 to September 30. Mark August 14 for a nice grouping of Moon, Venus and M35 and September 15 for M44.

The above image is used with the permission of
Simulation Curriculum.

August and September Jupiter and Saturn viewing 2020

The two most interesting gas giant planets reached opposition in our sky this past July, and they remain in good viewing position for more than a month after those dates. You can't miss Jupiter - it is the brightest object in the sky in August and September, although by then Mars should be making a good showing in the SE sky. Jupiter and Saturn will be near each other in the sky in the same constellation, Sagittarius, for most of 2020 and stay near each other for several years so future oppositions will feature both planets well into the future - a nice arrangement for Earthly observers.

Jupiter reached opposition first on July 14 and shone at magnitude -2.8 with a surface disk of 47.6" of arc.

Jupiter and its moons on July 14

Saturn reached opposition on July 20 with a magnitude of 0.13 and a disk diameter of 18.5 arc-seconds. The rings are about as wide as Jupiter's disk, 42" of arc across, so Saturn presents a large target for telescopes. The ring plane is nicely tilted our way as well, 21.9°.

Saturn and its moons on July 20

Note that the above diagrams of Jupiter and Saturn show moons at 23:00 on their respective opposition dates, but they are not to scale with respect to apparent size. Check your Jupiter moons or Saturn moons app for the current location. Finally, the diagram below shows Jupiter and Saturn positions in Sagittarius for fall of 2020. Specifically, this image shows the two planets on the meridian around 01:00 on July 17.

The above images are used with the permission of Simulation Curriculum.


Content on this page created by John Hlynialuk except where otherwise noted.