The month starts out with relatively dark skies, but by the 13th we will have a full moon on our hands. It will be in its new phase by the 28th, though, so back to dark sky gazing then! Did you know that some scientists are theorizing that Earth actually had two moons long ago? Check it out here at: http://www.npr.org/2011/08/04/138954932/early-earth-may-have-been-orbited-by-two-moons?sc=emaf.
If you are into sun spots, there has been a lot of sizzling and popping going on lately. Sunspot 1263, yesterday, just fired off the largest solar flare seen in years, an X7 class. No need to worry, though. It was not aimed at us. The way things are looking now, we will probably have plenty more sunspots in our near future. Remember: always use proper observation gear, and NEVER look directly at the sun.
As for meteors, the best shower of the year hit at a pretty bad time this year. The Perseids, long considered to be one of the most prolific meteor showers, peaks during our full moon. Your best bet for seeing any at all will be to go to a very dark observation field just before sunrise up until about the 10th or 12th of this month. Radiating from the constellation Perseus, the Perseids are caused by the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, and should produce up to 60 meteors per hour. Good luck and good hunting!
Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd) at a magnitude of 8.2 should be visible in binoculars in the constellation Pegasus moving to Sagitta by months end. We are definitely going to keep an eye out for this; comets are always a cool sight.
Two bright constellations are straight up this month: Lyra, the harp, and Cygnus, the swan. Both have bright alpha stars. Vega, in the constellation Lyra is an A0V star 25 light years away. Deneb, which means “tail” of the swan, is an A2Ia class star and is about 3,229 light years away. Why is Deneb so bright and so far away? Because Deneb is a super giant, and Vega is a dwarf.
For planet-hunters, Saturn is setting now right after sunset, but Jupiter will be taking its place soon. Jupiter is right now rising early in the morning well ahead of the sun. Neptune and Uranus are also out but you’ll need a decent telescope to see them. Mars and Venus are rising just before sun up. Remember to always look to the ecliptic to spot the planets.
If you have any questions about these subjects or any other subjects in astronomy join us on the 3rd Tuesday night of each month for out Sumer Astronomy Series, on Aug 16th and Sept 20th.