What to see in the night sky this week

Every Monday I pick the celestial highlights of the Northern Hemisphere (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but make sure

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What to look for in the night sky this week: August 8-14, 2022

This week would normally be all about going somewhere as dark as possible to enjoy the most famous meteor shower of the year. However, the moon has other ideas in 2022. The full “Sturgeon Moon” will rise almost exactly when the Perseid meteor shower peaks, meaning the 100 shooting stars will likely be virtually invisible to most stargazers.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to spot some of the brightest meteors after seeing the “Sturgeon Moon” appear on the eastern horizon at dusk. As an excuse, the solar system gives us Saturn as its largest, brightest and best, while the ringed planet moves into opposition later this week.

Friday, August 12, 2022: A Full ‘Sturgeon Moon’

Today our satellite is filling up, offering the chance to see a beautiful orangish moon rise over the eastern horizon at sunset. The August full moon is traditionally called “Sturgeon Moon” in North America, as this is the time of year when the fish were caught in the Great Lakes.

However, that’s an extremely geographically limited name for a global event and I see no reason for most of North America, let alone the rest of the world, to call it that. Other much better names for the August full moon are the “Barley Moon”, “Fruit Moon”, “Grain Moon”, “Corn Moon” and “Lightning Moon”.

Saturday, August 13, 2022: Perseid Meteor Shower

Typically a highlight of the annual stargazing calendar, strong moonlight will ruin this year’s Perseid meteor shower, with its roughly 100 “shooting stars” per hour likely to be very tricky to spot thanks to a full moon just past – although if you’re looking to stargazing at the stars just before midnight and into the early hours of tomorrow morning, you might see some particularly bright cars. The Perseid meteor shower is caused by dust and debris left in the inner solar system by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.

Sunday, August 14, 2022: Moon and Neptune, Saturn in opposition

Tonight, a 98% lit waning moon will rise near Neptune later in the evening. However, you will have to orbit to find the eighth planet without binoculars. Meanwhile, if you look at the eastern sky before the moon rises, you can see the planet Saturn shining relatively brightly. In fact, tonight the ringed planet is at its brightest and largest of the entire year. That’s because our planet is between Earth and Saturn, an annual event astronomers call opposition. Saturn will rise in the east at sunset and set in the west.

Object of the Week: Saturn in Opposition

Saturn’s opposition occurs when the Earth passes between it and the sun on its own, faster, journey around the sun. As a result of that geometry, Saturn’s disk will be fully illuminated when viewed from Earth. So Saturn will be looking at its biggest and brightest and best for all of 2022. Saturn’s position will change during the night; it will move higher in the sky, although it will never get particularly high from the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, and it will remain relatively low in the southern night sky.

You need a small telescope to see the rings. This year, Saturn’s northern hemisphere will tilt toward Earth in 2022, so you’ll get a relatively closed view of the rings. But seeing Saturn’s rings through a telescope may be the most impressive sight of all for anyone starting out with stargazing, planet-spotting and astronomy. They’re particularly bright in the few days around the opposition, so it’s worth it.

I wish you a clear sky and big eyes.

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