August 2015 – Stargazing

Things are looking up for stargazers as we start edging into the darker nights of August which should (if the weather falls in our favour) provide greater opportunity to spot stars and planets. It’s also a peak month for meteor watching as the Perseids stream into our atmosphere for our annual encounter with the remnants of comet, Swift-Tuttle.

The Night Sky

The Summer Triangle is an asterism made of three prominent stars, visible from the Northern Hemisphere over the summer months. Vega, Deneb and Altair are the brightest stars in the constellations, Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila respectively and easy to spot, often even in the light-polluted cities and towns given a cloud-free night.

The ‘W’ of stars that form the core of the constellation, Cassiopeia helps stargazers point towards the Andromeda galaxy, some 2.4 million light years away from us – it’s the farthest object you can see with the unaided eye. Given good clear skies, away from the city lights you should be able to make out the fuzzy blob of the galaxy without binoculars or a telescope.

Also in the north-eastern sky close to Cassiopeia is the constellation of Perseus. It was this hero in Greek mythology who saved princess Andromeda from the clutches of the sea monster, Cetus. Along the way, cutting of the head of the Gorgon, Medusa whose look could turn the living to stone. The brightest star in the constellation is known as Mirfak, but perhaps the most famous is the variable star, Algol (the ‘demon’ star) which is said to be the eye of the beheaded Medusa. It’s variability comes from the fact its actually a three star system with the brightest periodically being eclipsed to us by one of the dimmer. No need to be overly cautious though if you’re looking towards that part of the sky to spot the Perseids meteor shower!

The overhead night sky from Glasgow, UK at midnight on 14th August 2015. Made using Stellarium

The overhead night sky from Glasgow, UK at midnight on 14th August 2015. Made using Stellarium

Perseid Meteor Shower

The sand-sized particles that burn-up in a bright flash of light as they hurtle through our atmosphere are often called shooting stars. But, these are certainly not stars! They’re leftover pieces of the comet, Swift-Tuttle that form a trail on its long journey around the Sun. Every year, it just so happens that the Earth’s own path around the Sun intersects that of the trail from the comet and we experience a captivating light show.

The Perseids are visible from late July through August in the Northern Hemisphere, but the peak levels of activity tend to be between 9th to 13th August. They get their name from the constellation of Perseus as they generally appear to radiate from that part of the north-eastern sky. However, to stand the best chance of seeing them all you need to do is lie down and look-up to get a view of as much of the sky as you possibly can. Ideally, you’ll want to stay up till the darkest part of the night and often before dawn gives you the best view depending on the phase of the Moon. This year, the we could be in for a treat as we’re approaching a new Moon at time of the meteor shower peak which should mean darker skies and the chance to spot fainter flashes of light.

Sunrise and Sunset times, Glasgow

  • 7th August 2015 – Sunrise 05:32 Sunset 21:12

  • 14th August 2015 – Sunrise 05:46 Sunset 20:56

  • 22nd August 2015 – Sunrise 06:01 Sunset 20:37

  • 29th August 2015 – Sunrise 06:15 Sunset 20:20

All the times listed above are local to Glasgow.

Moon Phases

  • Third Quarter – 7th August 2015, 03:02

  • New Moon – 14th August 2015, 15:53

  • First Quarter – 22nd August 2015, 20:31

  • Full Moon – 29th August 2015, 19:35

Times listed above are local to Glasgow.

Be sure to look up often and enjoy your stargazing this August!


About Derek Shirlaw

I'm passionate about science communication, social media, and my home country, Scotland. In particular, I have a real interest in astronomy, digital marketing, and the great outdoors.
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