August Starwatch

by Deane Morrison

Every August, even casual starwatchers go on the lookout for the Perseid meteor shower, and this year it should be good.

The shower is predicted to peak at 1 a.m. on the 13th, hours before the moon’s harmlessly thin sliver rises through the dawn’s early light. The Perseids build up to their peak slowly, so if that night is cloudy, try any early morning between the 11th and 14th. After the peak, however, they tend to drop off sharply. The meteors radiate from a point near the helmet of Perseus, which will be high in the northeast during the peak hour. Meteors will probably begin flying soon after nightfall, and under dark skies you could see as many as 50 per hour. Perseids are fun to watch because they tend to be fast and often leave persistent trails.

On moonless evenings—between about the 4th and the 17th—the hours before midnight will be great for finding summer constellations.

Look low in the south for red Antares, the heart of Scorpius, and bright Saturn to the west, beyond the scorpion’s claws. Facing west, you’ll see brilliant Arcturus dragging kite-shaped Bootes, the herdsman, down toward the western horizon. Moving east from Bootes, we have the semicircle of stars known as Corona Borealis, the northern crown; the hourglass that defines upside-down Hercules; and the constellation Lyra with its brilliant star Vega, part of the Summer Triangle of bright stars. Turn your binoculars on the parallelogram of stars below Vega; this is the lyre of mythic musician Orpheus, whence the constellation’s name.

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