Moons and Meteors

August is a vacation month, when people head to the great outdoors be it the cottage or their favourite campsite. For city dwellers, this is a great escape to enjoy nature firsthand. From hearing different birds and taking in picturesque landscapes and scenery to laying under the stars, these are relaxing moments we cherish.

The night sky has a few events coming up. First, we have the full Sturgeon moon on August 1st. This so-called “supermoon” will be a little less than 355,800 km from us the next morning. This causes the moon to appear up to 14% larger and 30% brighter than when the moon is at its farthest position in its orbit. Its distance varies by 50,000 km. Of course, this will be a terrible night for deep-sky viewing but it will be the first of two full moons this month meaning August 30 will be a Blue Moon.

However, the show-stopper of the month will be the Perseid Meteor Shower. From the middle of July, the shower is still ramping up to the peak night of August 12/13 where we could see up to 80 meteors per hour. We will see the dusty and sandy debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle that last rounded the sun in 1992 in its 133-year orbit. The cometary debris will vapourize in the upper atmosphere at around 60 kilometres per second.

The timing of its peak could not be any better. First, it is on the weekend and the 8% crescent moon will only rise around 3 a.m. locally. If you can head out of town, you will gaze at the Milky Way and its billions of stars. The planets Saturn and Jupiter will also keep you company. Astronomy cell phone apps will show their positions.

Take the time to listen to the crickets and the frogs. Fireflies should still be out and of course breathing in the cool country air. Even the American singer-songwriter John Denver seeing the Perseids on a camping trip, composed the song entitled “Rocky Mountain High” with the lyrics “I’ve seen it rainin' fire in the sky. The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullaby”.

If all goes well and it is clear, it should be a night you will never forget.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

eNews date: 
Tuesday, August 1, 2023