August 2023 Stargazing Guide

Posted on Monday, July 31st, 2023

Greetings junior scientists, scientists and citizens this great big weird wild wonderful world in which we live. As always I'm your humble science Communicator the great Orbax coming to you from the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph I want to welcome you to our August 2023 Star Gazing Guide!

August. It always carries a melancholy feel for me. With Autumn quickly approaching it feels like our summer is ending but there's still time junior scientists to spend those warm summer nights seeking out what lies beyond the confines of this spinning planet that we call home. This month we gaze upon the rings of Saturn, watch out for the biggest meteor shower of the year and we end the month with not just a full moon, not just a sturgeon moon, not just a blue moon, but also a super moon. Yes, that's right, a Super Blue Sturgeon Moon.
All this and more if we just take some time...

to look up
The easily spotted asterism of the summer triangle as high and bright in the sky throughout August. Comprised of Vega, Altair and Deneb these three bright stars are each part of their own constellation. The upper most vertex in the triangle is Vega part of Lyra the Lyre. Altair to the right is in Aquila the Eagle and Deneb to your left is part of Cygnus the Swan. Use these three stars in the Southeast as your starting point for exploring the August Night Sky.
Looking for Mercury? Our smallest planet in the solar system should be visible low and in the west right at sunset on August 10th when it's at its greatest Eastern Elongation. Our gas giant Jupiter will get better and better looking in the mornings throughout the month of August as it rises in altitude as the month progresses.
Our big planetary excitement this month is Saturn. Saturn will appear close to the nearly full moon on August 2nd and 3rd and the full moon on August 30th and as a matter of fact Saturn will actually be in Opposition on the 27th. That means that Saturn is directly opposite the Sun from our perspective and as a result is the most illuminated that it will be all year. It'll be visible all night long starting in the Southeastern sky at Sunset and moving towards the Southwestern sky at Sunrise. If you happen to have a telescope you should be able to see Saturn, its rings and its moons. Good luck Junior Scientists.

Our full moons this month take place on August 1st and on August 30th and on top of that they're both Supermoons! Last month we talked about Super Moons in some detail. A Super Moon occurs when the Moon is closest to the Earth in its orbit thereby appearing about 14 x bigger and about 30 percent brighter than when it's furthest away from the Earth. And we get two of these full Super Moons this month! So is that a Blue Moon? Let me explain.

A calendar year is 365.25  days in length but

A lunar month is 29.5 days long. Because these numbers don't entirely match up we end up with 13 lunar months every two to three years. Now originally a Blue Moon was defined as the third Full Moon in any season that had four Full Moons. In the mid-1900s a radio show mis-defined what a Blue Moon was and this mis-definition was further popularized by the game Trivial Pursuit which mistakenly labeled the second Full Moon of any month as a Blue Moon. The indigenous peoples of North America have 12 lunar month names but there are also references to the 13 lunar months that occur quite frequently. One particular example is the 13 larger plates which appear on the back of Turtle Island in First Nations artwork including the Iroquois Mi'kmaw Legends. Some of the Indigenous Nations will be repeating the July lunar month for the first Full Moon in August while others will see the August Full Moons repeat. The August Full Moon is the berry ripening moon for the Mi'kmaw people of the East Coast, Kisikewiku's, and will be used for both August Moons. Most settlers refer to the August Moon as the “Sturgeon Moon”. The sturgeon family of fish has existed for more than 135 million years and has even been mistaken for lake monsters on several occasions! The Anishinaabe people of the Great Lakes region will call August's Blue Moon Manoominike-giizis, the Wild Rice Moon, or Miine Giizis, the Blueberry Moon.  
So yes, that's right, August 30th we will experience a Super Blue Sturgeon Moon and it'll be the biggest Super Moon that we experience all year.
The Perseid Meteor Showers produce up to 60 meters per hour at its peak. It occurs annually when the Earth passes through the debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle. Discovered in 1862 by Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle, Comet Swift-Tuttle is huge it's actually twice the size of the object that we think ended the rule of the Dinosaurs. The Radiant, where the meteors appear to be coming from in the night sky, is actually the constellation Perseus in the Northeast and the shower Peaks on the night of August 12th and the morning of August 13th. That said we'll continue to pass through that debris until August 24th so get out there and good luck junior scientists.
With a return to your studies approaching, this month may mark some of the last opportunities that you have for late nights junior scientists. Make sure you get out there, have some fun, and as always take some time... to look up.

See you next month junior scientists and don’t forget to have a science-tastic day!
Special thanks to Royal City Science's own planetary geochemist Dr Glynis Perrett for her help preparing our Star Gazing Guide and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada


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