In The Sky This Month – August 2010

This feature highlights a number of meteor showers, comets and asteroids which are visible during the month of August 2010.

August 2010 Highlights

* Venus, Mars and Saturn close in on each other in the evening sky
* A 2nd trio of Venus, Mars and Spica form at the end of the month
* Perseid meteor shower visible under great conditions
* Mercury has a mediocre evening apparition in July/August (great from SH)
* Comet 10P/Tempel 2 reaches small telescope brightness in the morning sky

Note: If anyone has pictures or observations of these objects/events and want to share them, send me a comment and I’ll post them on the blog.

Planets

Venus, Mars and Saturn – Venus is the brightest “star” visible in the early evening (at magnitude -4.3 to -4.6). Low in the west it sets about 1.9 to 1.5 hours after sunset. Maximum height above the horizon was reached a few months ago. As a result, Venus will appear to sink lower in the sky every night. Still, it will be well placed for easy observing as it is at its brightest this month. If you are located south of the equator, this is a much better apparition and Venus is sitting as high above the horizon as it can get. Regardless, of where you are located it will be hard to miss brilliant -4 magnitude Venus in the west an hour or 2 after sunset.

This month Venus, Mars and Saturn form a tight trio in the early evening sky. On August 8, Venus (magnitude -4.3), Mars (magnitude +1.5) and Saturn (magnitude +1.1) are located within 4.8° of each other.

August 8 - Venus and Saturn within 2.7° of each other
August 13 - Moon passes within 4.2° of Venus, 7.3° of Saturn and 5.5° of Mars
August 19 - Venus and Mars within 1.9° of each othe

Jupiter Jupiter once again returns to sight as a brilliant star in the east-southeast a few hours after sunset. The magnitude -2.6 planet will get brighter and better place for observing over the next few months. Last year Jupiter made a series of close approaches to Neptune. This year Jupiter will do the same for Uranus. All month long Jupiter will be located within a few degrees of Uranus.

August 27 - Moon passes within 6.7° of Jupiter

Mercury – Mercury is in the midst of a mediocre evening apparition for northern observers. The apparition is a great one for southern hemisphere observers.

August 12 - Moon passes within 2.2° of Mercury

Meteors

Meteor activity is near a yearly maximum in August. The year is usually split in 2 with January through June having low rates with few major showers while July through December (really through the 1st week of January) have high rates with many major showers.

Sporadic Meteors

Sporadic meteors are not part of any known meteor shower. They represent the background flux of meteors. Except for the few days per year when a major shower is active, most meteors that are observed are Sporadics. This is especially true for meteors observed during the evening. During August, 12-18 or so Sporadic meteors can be observed per hour from a dark moonless sky.

Major Meteor Showers

Perseids (PER)

The Perseids are one of 2 showers that are worth getting up early for. This year the Moon will set early in the evening so the prime meteor watching hours will be nice and dark. Based on the their behavior in prior years a broad maximum is expected between 2010 Aug. 12, 18:30 UT and Aug. 13, 7:00 UT. There may even be a little enhancement as we pass through a dust trail ejected by the Perseids’ parent comet, Swift-Tuttle, in 441 AD at 13:19 UT on Aug. 13 (from the work of Mikhail  Maslov). An additional dust trail created in 1479 may also add a few meteors. The enhancements will be small and may only add another 10 or so meteors per hour to the expected maximum rate of 100 per hour.

These rates will only be visible for those under a very dark sky when the radiant is high in the sky. For most of us, rates will be lower due to light pollution. Still, unless you live in a bright major city, you should be able to see a few dozen meteors per hour.

The best time to look will be after about 1-2 am on the night of August 12/13. Meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation of Perseus in the northeast sky.

Minor Meteor Showers

Minor showers produce so few meteors that they are hard to notice above the background of regular meteors. Starting this month, info on most of the minor showers will be provided on a weekly basis by Robert Lunsford’s Meteor Activity Outlook.

Additional information on these showers and other minor showers not included here can be found at the following sites: Wayne Hally’s and Mark Davis’s NAMN Notes, and the International Meteor Organization’s 2010 Meteor Shower Calendar.

Comets

Naked Eye Comets (V < 6.0)

None

Binocular Comets (V = 6.0 – 8.0)

None

Small Telescope Comets (V = 8.0 – 10.0)

Comet 10P/Tempel 2

’10P’ says it all. This was only the 10th comet to be observed at a 2nd apparition meaning we’ve been following this comet for a long time. Discovered by prolific German comet discoverer Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel in Marseille, France on July 4, 1873, Tempel 2 has been observed at nearly every return since then. The comet’s current orbit brings it to within 1.42 AU of the Sun on July 4 and to within 0.65 AU of Earth in late August.

The comet is currently at a brightness of 9.0 to 9.5 magnitude. This is a large diffuse object so it will be more difficult to see than your average 9th magnitude comet or deep sky object. From my moderately light polluted backyard and 12″ telescope, the comet was a difficult object and was estimated to be magnitude 10.0. From a dark site and 30×125 binoculars, the comet was much brighter (magnitude 9.5), larger and easier to see. The added brightness was probably due to the dark site allowing me to see much more of the comet’s coma.

At mid-month the comet will be 1.49 AU from the Sun and 0.66 AU from Earth. Tempel 2 is a morning object moving from the constellation of Aquarius to Cetus.

A finder chart for Comet Tempel 2 can be found at Comet Chasing.

A nice collection of images can be found at the VdS-Fachgruppe Kometen (Comet Section of Germany) and Seiichi Yoshida’s Comet Homepage.

Asteroids

Binocular and Small Telescope Asteroids (V < 9.0)

(1) Ceres

Ceres is the biggest asteroid in the Main Belt with a diameter of 585 miles or 975 km. It is so big that it is now considered a Dwarf Planet. Classified as a carbonaceous (carbon-rich) Cg-type asteroid, there are suggestions that it may be rich in volatile material such as water. Some even propose that an ocean exists below its surface. Ceres is the other target of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft which is scheduled to visit it in 2015.

This month Ceres is a month past opposition. The asteroid will start the month at magnitude 8.1 and fade to magnitude 8.6 by the end of the month. All month long it will slowly moving in the constellation Ophiuchus.

A finder chart (needs to be flipped upside down for Northern Hemisphere observers) can be found at the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand. Finder chart for Ceres from Heavens Above.

(6) Hebe and (8) Flora

These 2 large inner Main Belt asteroids will move in tandem this fall. Both are S-type asteroids with similar compositions and albedos. (6) Hebe is the larger of the pair (205 x 185 x 170 km). Recent research suggests that it is the source of many ordinary chondrite meteorites and near-Earth asteroids. (8) Flora is a little smaller (136 x 136 x 113 km) and is the largest surviving member of a numerous asteroid family created by a long ago impact.

This month Hebe is retrograding in Cetus and will brighten from magnitude 8.7 to 8.0. Just across the border in Aquarius Flora will brighten from magnitude 9.2 to 8.4.

A finder chart (needs to be flipped upside down for Northern Hemisphere observers) can be found at the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand. Finder chart for Hebe from Heavens Above.

About Carl Hergenrother
I am a professional astronomer specializing in the study of comets, asteroids and meteors. This blog will focus on my professional and amateur work in this field

14 Responses to In The Sky This Month – August 2010

  1. Fred says:

    Hi, I just found your site and it’s amazing. Congratulations!
    I have observed the conjunction of Venus, Mars and Saturn (and Mercury) from Brazil. Worth mentioning that Vesta is also in that spot these days.

    I got some pictures from the conjunction from Brazil: http://picasaweb.google.com.br/quintao/Astronomy_venus_mars_saturn_aug_3rd#

    All the best,
    Fred

  2. Ron Jung says:

    This morning around 3:30 am (central time) I saw a very bright shooting star- very long tail and lasted quite a while. I came home and checked facebook and a friend in CA reported on his status something very similar around the same time. I live in Wisconsin– could it have been the same object? Could it have been a comet?

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi Ron,

      Sounds like you saw a meteor, and a good one too.

      It’s unlikely your meteor was also seen in CA. Most meteors burn out about 40-60 miles up which means they can be seen over a few hundred miles but not thousands of miles.

      This is a very active time of the year for meteors with lots of active meteor showers. The biggest one, the Perseids, are building to a maximum. The best time to see these are after midnight next Thursday night/Friday morning. If you live some place dark (where the
      Milky Way is visible) you will see about 60 per hour. Even in bright cities you’ll see a dozen or so per hour.

      Thanks for writing,
      – Carl

  3. Juan Carlos Manning says:

    I saw something strange today in the night sky (I am currently in Mancora, Peru). I saw a strange sort of star, the brightest of them all, but with a kind of light tail; and when I focused with one eye or the other, I saw like antennae around the thing. I am guessing that if I saw it, then anyone who is currently watching the night sky can see it. For reference, it is to the “north” part of the sky (by that I mean that when I look up into the sky it seems to be in the north).

    At first I thought it was a shooting star, but sh.stars are debris that enters the atmosphere and burns up. Besides it was “moving” dead slow, so my second guess was a comet, but your site says nothing of that. So, after looking at the nasa site and your site I´m still oblivious as what it is. I dont know if it is the collision of the Antennae galaxies, or the aurora from the solar flare or whatever.

    Please help me understand what I saw, I’m really interested.

  4. Leigh says:

    I live in Scotland and on Tuesday night (3rd August 2010) I saw something in the sky which I cannot explain. I ran into the garden to see better and initially thought it was an airplane on fire. Thats exactly what it looked like. It was heading in a north-east direction and seemed to have pieces of debris falling from it.
    It got smaller and then disappeared.
    Since then friends have suggested it could be explosions from the sun…?
    Do you have any ideas?

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi Leigh,

      From your description, it sounds like you saw a big bright meteor, also called a fireball.

      Most meteors only last a fraction of a second and burn out after moving a short distance on the sky. But some travel slowly relative to the Earth. As a result they take longer to burn up. Sometimes they can last for many seconds and travel across a good stretch of sky. If they are big enough (the size of a small rock), pieces can be seen breaking off and falling behind the main body. Event these small pieces can have ‘tails’. It really does look like a flaming plane is falling from the sky.

      This month the rate of meteors is near an annual high as many meteor showers are active. Don’t be surprised if you see more, especially after midnight this week. Though most of these will be of the short and fast kind.

      BTW, the Sun has experience some explosions recently. The results of these explosion, called coronal mass ejections, are the auroras seen the past few nights.

      Thanks for writing,
      – Carl

  5. Zelda Wynn says:

    Hi,
    I am finding your site most informative and a help identifying the two lights close to Venus. They look rather dull compared to venus, are they Mars and Saturn ?
    I am primarily a cloud photographer, but am fascinated by the light remaining in the sky well after the sun goes down and what shines there.

  6. lucy says:

    Heeey

    I need major Help
    Of cours you guys know about the mars hoax. In the past 2 weeks my friends’ been broad-casting messages on Blackberry messenger that say mars will look as big as the moon and all that crap that comes with it.
    I broad-casted a message myself that says its a hoax and even put the NASA link that explains it all…but 2day I got a 3 messages with this :

    And a friend of mine-one of the 3 who sent the picture- said that she saw mars and was all happy about it, she said it was green-ish blue-ish. I told her its not real…because mars is supposed to be “The Red Planet”.. but she was all : then what was the thing I saw last night?

    I’m kind of confused now…plz help? XO

    I totally hope she’s lying and that picture played with.

    Love.

    Lucy

    • Carl Hergenrother says:

      Hi Lucy,

      You are correct, the Mars hoax is just that, a hoax. This web hoax has been circulating every year since 2003. In that year Mars did come very close to the Earth. The original email stated that Mars would look as large as the Moon if you used a telescope with 75x power magnification. That was pretty much true for August 2003.

      Now the email is circulated every year with the year changed. Problem is Mars is no longer close to the Earth. In fact Mars is visible as
      a not too impressive red star low in the west in the early evening. Also the hoax emails forgets to mention the part about needing a high magnification telescope and make it appear that Mars will be as big as the Moon to the unaided eye. Even at its best Mars appears as a star to the naked eye and is never brighter than the Moon, or Venus for that matter. It can get brighter than the brightest stars and even rival Jupiter.

      Though Mars does come close to Earth once every 2 years, it only makes very close approaches every 15-17 years. It’s last close approach was back on Jan 29 though it only got as bright as the brightest stars. It’s next approach is in March 2012 when it will again only rival the brightest stars. The next bright approaches are in July 2018 and October 2020.

      You can read more about the hoax at …
      http://www.snopes.com/science/astronomy/brightmars.asp
      http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/25aug_marshoax/

      As for your friend’s picture, it does look like an overexposed photo of something as large and as bright as the Moon. That’s because it looks like a photo of the Moon. The blue and faint red spheres above it are just reflections in the camera lens.

      Hope this helps,
      – Carl

  7. David Morgan says:

    Just after about 20.00 this evening August 29, we were looking at the sky to the north west from our home in Lampeter (west Wales) as the sun went down. We saw what at first looked like a plane with short vapour trail, but the trail never grew in length as normal. Through binoculars it was a very bright object with a distinct V shaped tail heading fast away north west. It was surely a comet, and we looked on several sites and found one called K5 McNaught which may be visible now.

    • James Hartzog says:

      On August 29th, 2010, just before sunset aprox 21:00 I saw a large red fireball to my east traveling north by northwest at aprox 45 degrees. It was traveling at a very slow rate of speed. At first I thought it was a plane with a engine on fire. There were very few clouds in the sky and the object was in plain site for aprox 60 seconds before it traveled out of sight. It left no vapor trail that I could notice nor could I hear any sound associated with it. I live in southeast Michigan.

    • T says:

      James, do you think it was a meteor or some other object?

  8. Katrina says:

    My friend and I were having a chat on campus last night (UCLA in Los Angeles CA USA) at around 10:18PM PST when she initially spotted what she described as a blue-ish orange-ish colored ball in the sky, falling southeast at approximately 45 degrees. She pointed it out to me and I caught just a glimpse of what I would describe as a brightly colored ball, going fairly fast but not as fast as you would imagine a shooting star. We didn’t think it was a shooting star because it left no path and it wasn’t just white. It was so vivid and spectacular that we literally stood there in awe just theorizing what it could mean. And come to think of it it was probably in the direction of ESE rather than SE. A tree blocked the rest of the path it looked like it intended to follow, but it was slow enough for her to point it out and me to turn around and catch a glimpse just before it disappeared. We speculated that it could be a comet. Any ideas?

  9. Sally Carson says:

    My Mother and I saw what looked like three bright burning objects in the sky on August 29, 2010. When at first we noticed them we thought they were just a plane with the sun glinting off the wings, but the more we watched the more we could see that it wasn’t. they were traveling from East to West at just after the sun sat over the horizon. we live on a very high hill with a view that goes on for at least 16 to 20 miles in that general direction . We watched the balls of fire for around 10 mins, with the naked eye, and with binoculars. when viewing with the binoculars, you could see bits break off and then burn up. They never did go down over the horizon, they just got so far away we couldnt see them anymore. We waited for something to be said on the news, but we never did hear anything about it from anyone else. If anyone has any information about this , or saw the same things, we should would like to know.

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