Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Stargazing in August

By David Reneke

Your guide to the night sky this month.

There’s a Full Moon on Sunday August 14 so anytime well before this is the best time to stargaze. Really! Without the moon around so many more stars and star clusters can be seen. Funnily, some astronomers consider the moon a source of light pollution because it washes out half the sky around it.

Want to see some really cool meteors? Thought so, but you’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning OK! Watch for leftovers of the Perseids and Delta Aquarids meteor showers peaking just before mid month. The full moon will definitely be a problem but it could still be a great show. Find a location far from city lights and just look up.

Around midnight, three of the best constellations pop out of the darkness in close proximity, beaming through the fading colors of sunset. They’ll hang together in the eastern sky until they follow the Sun below the western horizon long after you’ve gone to bed.

Look for Orion, or the familiar shape of the Saucepan. Check out the middle ‘star’ in the handle and you’ll see it’s really a magnificent nebula, easily seen in even small telescopes.

A little to the left is the constellation of Taurus, forming the profile of a Bull's face in a V configuration of stars. It contains many objects, primarily open clusters with my favourite, the Hyades, forming the head of the bull. Look for the Crab Nebula too, a left over relic from a violent supernova explosion many centuries ago, is also visible.

A little more to the left, in the northeastern quadrant of the Taurus constellation lie the Pleiades, one of the best known open clusters, easily visible to the naked eye. The seven most prominent stars in this cluster are also called the ‘Seven Sisters’. For motoring fans, it’s also the Subaru emblem.

While you’re in the mood, why not take time out and try my favourite celestial sport – meteor watching. The Perseids are tailing out this month and after midnight meteors should flit across the starry sky in a display that can be more exciting than a Lady Gag Ga concert. The radiant may be a little low, but still worth a try.

Jupiter is now high enough in the pre dawn sky for telescopic observation to be rewarding. For best results, get away from city lights. A good dark sky will show the giant planet well and even improve your views of Jupiter’s’ four main moons, easily seen in even small telescopes. I know its cold, but try and take a peek.

David Reneke is one of Australia’s leading astronomers, lecturers and teachers. He’s a feature writer for Australasian Science magazine and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Get David’s free astronomy newsletter at www.davidreneke.com