What to see in the night sky this week

Every Monday I pick out the Northern Hemisphere Sky Highs (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to

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

This week will normally be about getting to as dark a place as possible to enjoy the most famous meteor shower of the year. However, the moon has other ideas in 2022. The full “star moon” will rise almost exactly when the Perseid meteor shower peaks, meaning its 100-plus shooting star 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 you’ve seen the “Sturgeon Moon” appear on the eastern horizon at dusk. As a way of lamenting, the solar system delivers us Saturn at its biggest, brightest and best when the ringed planet moves into opposition later this week.

Friday the 12th August 2022: A full “Sturgeon Moon”

Today our satellite is full, giving the chance to see a beautiful orange-ish moon rising above the eastern horizon near sunset. August’s full moon has the traditional name of the “Sturgeon Moon” in North America because that is the time of year the fish were caught in the Great Lakes.

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

Saturday 13 August 2022: Perseid meteor shower

Typically a highlight of the annual stargazing calendar, bright moonlight will spoil this year’s Perseid meteor shower, with its 100 or so “shooting stars” an hour likely to be very difficult to see thanks to a just-past full moon – but if you’re out watching the stars just before midnight tonight and in the early hours of tomorrow morning, you can see some particularly bright cars. The Perseid meteor shower is caused by dust and debris left behind in the inner solar system by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.

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

Tonight, a 98% illuminated waning moon will rise later in the night near Neptune. However, you’ll have a job finding the eighth planet without binoculars. Meanwhile, if you look toward the eastern sky before the moon rises, you’ll see the planet Saturn shining relatively brightly. In fact, tonight the ringed planet is at its brightest and largest all year. That’s because our planet is between Earth and Saturn, an annual occasion that astronomers call resistance. Saturn will rise in the east at dusk 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 consequence of that geometry, Saturn’s disk will be completely illuminated, as seen from Earth. So Saturn will look at its biggest and brightest and best for all of 2022. The position of Saturn will change throughout the night; it will move higher in the sky, although from mid-latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere it never gets particularly high, and it will remain relatively low in the southern night sky.

You need any small telescope to see the rings. This year, Saturn’s northern hemisphere is tipped toward Earth in 2022, so you get a relatively closed view of the rings. But seeing Saturn’s rings through a telescope is still perhaps the most impressive sight for anyone starting out in stargazing, planet-spotting and astronomy. They are especially bright in the few days around resistance, so it’s worth making the effort.

Wishing you clear skies and big eyes.

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