This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, August 12, through Sunday, August 14, written by Sam Salem.
On Friday, Sun rises at 5:58am and sets at 8:01pm; Moon sets at 6:16am and rises at 8:56pm.
Perseid Meteor Shower will peak after midnight on Friday. The best time for seeing the most Perseids meteors will be the hours before dawn on Saturday morning when the shower’s radiant in Perseus will be highest in the northeastern sky. Perseid Meteor Shower runs between July 17 and August 26 every year. This is the most popular shower of the year, delivering as many as 100 meteors per hour at the peak. Perseid Meteor Shower is derived from debris dropped by Comet Swift-Tuttle. Many Perseids are extremely bright and leave persistent trails. This year, a nearly full Moon will shine all night long on the peak date, reducing the number of meteors we will see. To enjoy meteor showers, find a dark location with open sky and just look up.
Catch the waning crescent Moon between Saturn and Jupiter overnight on Friday and Saturday. You can spot the trio all night until dawn. While Saturn is up all night, Jupiter doesn’t rise until around 10 pm. They’ll be a glorious sight before dawn. On Sunday evening, the waning gibbous Moon will shine a palm’s width to the right of Jupiter, close enough to be viewed together in binoculars. Through the night, the diurnal rotation of the sky will shift the Moon below Jupiter. On Monday night, the Moon’s orbital motion will cause it to hop east to Jupiter’s lower left.
Towards the middle of August, Mars will join Jupiter and Saturn in the evening sky. If you have an unobstructed eastern horizon, you should be able to spot Mars peeking above the horizon within a few minutes after midnight. Watch for the bright Pleiades star cluster shining nearby. Mars will look its best in a telescope when it is highest in the southeastern sky before dawn.
On Sunday, Saturn will reach opposition among the stars of eastern Capricornus. At opposition, Earth is positioned between the planet and the Sun. Therefore, planets at opposition are visible all night long, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise. At opposition, Saturn will be at a distance of 823.3 million miles, or 73.7 light-minutes from Earth. It will shine at magnitude of 0.28, its brightest for this year. While planets at opposition always look their brightest, Saturn’s peak magnitude will be enhanced by the Seeliger effect, backscattered sunlight from its rings. Saturn’s rings will be tilting more edge-on to us every year until the spring of 2025. Opposition is also a fine time to view a handful of Saturn’s moons with a backyard telescope in a dark sky. Saturn will be highest in the sky around midnight.