BIG BEASTS LINE UP

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BIG BEASTS LINE UP
Juno Image of Jupiter. Picture courtesy of Nasa.

Well, what an exciting spring we had! The first launch of Americans into space from US soil for nine years.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft worked perfectly, docking itself with the International Space Station and it was visible from Alvechurch on its way there, too.

Look up www.heavens-above.com to find when the ISS can be seen again and to see if the next launch of a supply vessel, a Russian Progress, on July 23, is viewable.

Crew Dragon Docks with the ISS
Crew Dragon Docks with the International Space Station. Picture courtesy of Nasa.

In the rest of our skies, that odd little thing Corvus has finally gone away. A tiny little constellation, it never rises very high and largely disappears come summer. The really big news of this month is, of course, the opposition of the two largest planets you will ever set eyes on, Jupiter and Saturn.

Opposition just means that the planet is exactly opposite the Sun and for Jupiter this is on July 14 and for Saturn it’s July 20. At this time these giants are at their highest and exactly south at solar midnight, which is one in the morning on our clocks because we made them an hour fast back in March.

As we drift into August and the sky wanders westwards, they reach this point earlier in the evening and you won’t have to stay up late to see them. Jupiter, especially, is so big and bright you will be able to see it as soon as the Sun sets, before the sky gets dark, a bit after 9pm.

Look to the horizon a little to the east of south. It will not get very high in the sky because being (sort of) summer, the ecliptic is very low but as August progresses, it will get higher.

Saturn follows on, not far behind but being not quite as bright, you will have to wait for the skies to darken a little. Look for it just to the left of Jupiter.

The Moon visits on the 1st and the 2nd but, of course, it will also be nearly opposite the Sun and practically full and very bright.

August also brings us possibly the best meteor shower of the year, the Perseids. I say the best because, although other meteor showers may have a greater hourly rate and the night is shorter right now, this is the best time of year to be outside watching.

Although the official peak is on the 12th, meteors will be visible a good few days either side. Now, I’m often asked “Where is the best place to look for meteors?” The obvious answer is “The sky . . .”

This is not as facetious as it sounds (Me? Never). They really can appear anywhere in the sky. It’s just that if you trace their paths back to where they seem to have come from, it will be somewhere in Perseus.

You just need to look up at the largest and darkest patch of sky you can find, So, if you find yourself forced to sit outside in the evenings for some reason, get meteor spotting.

Cassini Image of Saturn
Cassini Image of Saturn