Manitoba Skies – August 2020
August brings earlier sunsets, making astronomy a bit more reasonable for those of us who normally go to sleep before midnight. This year, the annual Perseid meteor shower isn’t the only big show in August: the two largest planets in the solar system are at their best, as well.
The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year around August 11, and is often one of the most over-hyped events of the year. The very name “shower” conjures ideas of a rain of falling stars, but everything is relative. On a typical night, if you watch the sky uninterrupted for an hour, and you are in a dark location free of streetlights, and the moon isn’t in the sky, you could see a half-dozen or so meteors on any night of the year. In practice, one or more of those conditions isn’t met, and so most people don’t see them very often at all. Spend enough time under the sky, though, and you will see meteors fairly regularly.
During a meteor shower, the numbers increase. During the Perseids (which peak on the night of August 11-12, 2020), if you watch the sky uninterrupted for an hour, and you are in a dark location free of streetlights, you’ll probably see 30 to 60 meteors per hour in the pre-dawn hours of August 12 (well after midnight on the night of August 11th). Before midnight, you’ll see maybe 5-20 an hour (based on my experience with the Perseids). It’s really worth staying up late for this, and people that go to bed early are often disappointed even though this is one of the best meteor showers of the year. If it’s cloudy, you can see a decent show the next day. (Technically, the Perseids start in July and run through the month, but the rates start off very low and then build to peak intensity for only a couple of days around the 11th.)
Also, see our virtual observing events below for our first annual Perseid Party.
Mercury is visible for the first week of August, low in the east-northeast just before sunrise. It is quite low, and soon gets too close to the sun to be visible.
Venus rises about 2:30 am in the east-northeast, and is well above the horizon in the east at dawn.
Mars is rising in the southeast before midnight, growing in brightness as it comes closer to Earth. Telescope viewers will still wait to go out in the early morning sky, when Mars has risen high enough that it is clear of the murky air near the horizon.
Jupiter is low in the southeast at sunset, and moves across the southern sky over the course of the night. It stays fairly low in the sky, so if you have trees of buildings to your south you may need to find a clearer observing site. Binoculars will reveal up to four tiny stars lined up on either side of the planet – the largest of Jupiter’s moons. A small telescope is needed to see the cloud bands and other details.
Saturn is just a bit to Jupiter’s left, and follows it across the sky. The famous rings of Saturn are only visible in a telescope, but see below if you don’t have one of your own.
The Planetarium is hosting two online observing events in August.
August 11, 2020 11 pm – dawn: Perseid Party (online meteor shower viewing)
We will have an all-sky camera streaming all night to watch the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks tonight. Under a dark sky outside of city lights you can expect several dozen meteors per hour after a am. The meteors before that time will be fewer, but often brighter. The all-sky camera feed will be supplemented by commentary by planetarium astronomer Scott Young as well as special guests. Watch online or, better yet, go to a dark sky location yourself, watch the real sky and listen in!
August 22, 2020 9:30 pm to 11 pm: Jupiter and Saturn
Live telescope feeds of the two largest planets in our solar system! We will see Jupiter’s clouds and moons, and the glorious rings of Saturn.
1 Aug 2020 (all night): The nearly-full moon is below and between Jupiter and Saturn in the southern sky.
2 Aug 2020 (all night): The nearly-full moon forms a curved line, with Saturn to its right and Jupiter to Saturn’s right.
3 Aug 2020: Full Moon
9 Aug 2020 (late night – into morning of 10th): The moon is very close to Mars. The contrast of the nearby moon will make Mars’ red colour particularly noticeable.
11 Aug 2020: Last Quarter Moon, and the peak of the Perseid meteor shower.
15 Aug 2020 (pre-dawn): The Crescent Moon is just above Venus in the southeast.
18 Aug 2020: New Moon
25 Aug 2020: First Quarter Moon
28 Aug 2020: The Moon is just below Juptier in the southern sky.
29 Aug 202: The Moon is to the left of Saturn in the southern sky.
The StarLink satellite swarms have been visible over Manitoba lately. These trains of satellites appear as moving “stars” one after the other, following the same path across the sky. To find out when they’ll be visible, consult Heavens-above.com and set it for your location. Or, you can just go outside in the evening and you’ll probably see some.
To see when the International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba, click here. You can find times for other locations across Manitoba and throughout the world, as well as times for other orbiting objects, by visiting Heavens-above.com and entering your location here.