Nepali Times
Star Gazing
August sky


This month, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury are performing some fancy celestial dances close to the Sun, and will not be visible to us. However, mighty Jupiter will dominate the night sky. During evening hours, look for a bright Jupiter high overhead in the constellation of Ophiuchus. Predawn sky watchers should look out for the red planet Mars in the constellation of Taurus the Bull.

Weather permitting, get ready to enjoy celestial fireworks this month. August brings the well-known Perseid meteor-shower, the best of the year. Perseids can be seen from late July to late August, but the peak is expected in the early hours of 13 August. Tiny particles of dust and rock left by the Swift-Tuttle comet will smash into Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 215,000km per hour, producing a brilliant display of shooting stars.

Perseids are a rich and consistent meteor shower and you can expect to see one Perseid a minute. They all seem to radiate from a point in the constellation of Perseus, which is high in the east by dawn. Since the Moon is New, the sky will be very dark, making this an incredible display.

Also during August enjoy the red-giant variable star Antares, a brilliant jewel at the heart of one of the great constellations, the Zodiac's Scorpius. (The brightness of variable stars changes periodically). Antares is easy to find a little south of Jupiter. Antares means 'Mars's rival' and many a stargazer has mistaken this ruddy red star for the planet Mars. With a size of 15 to 18 solar masses, Antares probably does not have much time left, since super massive stars quickly exhaust their hydrogen fuel and explode as brilliant supernovas.

Don't miss the meeting of the waning Moon with Mars in the early morning hours of 7 August, when the Moon will be seen crossing Pleiades. There is a total eclipse of the Moon on 28 August that will be partially visible from Nepal between 6.30 and 7PM.

August highlights:
. The Sun is in the constellation of Cancer at the start of August, moving into Leo on the 11th.
Mercury starts the month rising about an hour before the Sun and might be seen before sunrise. On 15 August, it goes through a superior conjunction (behind the Sun) and becomes an evening object.
. Venus is at inferior conjunction (in front of the Sun) on 18 August. But towards the end of August, it will start to appear as a brilliant Morning Star, low in the east before dawn.
. Mars rises after 2AM and spends most of August moving through Taurus. We have good views of Mars now and it will put on a good show right into winter.
. Jupiter, in Ophiuchus, is dominant throughout the month and is just northeast of Antares, the red giant star in Scorpius. Jupiter meets the Moon on 21 August.
. Saturn is getting closer to the Sun. On 21 August the ringed-planet goes through a superior conjunction almost directly behind the Sun to become a morning object.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)