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Perseid meteor shower headlines busy month for astronomy

By Brian Lada, AccuWeather, Accuweather.com

The warm summer nights are numbered, and meteorological autumn is lurking around the corner. The new meteorological season officially starts on Sept. 1, and there's no better way to take advantage of the last of the summer nights than spending some time under the stars.

Augusts boasts several big astronomical happenings, including the best meteor shower of the entire year. The Perseids peak every year around the middle of August, and this year's event is shaping up to be even more impressive than last year's showing.

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But shooting stars are only part of the story.

The two biggest planets in the solar system will appear brighter than they have all year and will shine side-by-side all month long. So dust off your telescope and get ready for the top astronomy events in August.

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1. Saturn and Jupiter Oppositions When: Aug. 2, Aug. 19

Saturn and Jupiter have been gradually getting brighter in the night sky in recent months, and in August, they will reach peak brightness during an event known as opposition.

Opposition is an astronomical term to describe when a planet is opposite of the sun from the perspective of the Earth. This is also around the time when the planet is closest to the Earth, making the planets appear brighter than any other time of the year.

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Saturn is set to reach opposition on Aug. 2, while Jupiter is set to reach opposition on Aug. 19.

Despite the oppositions happening on specific dates, the planets will appear bright all month long. This means that if it is cloudy, observers can just wait a night or two for better weather for an almost identical view.

The pair of planets will rise in the east around sunset, track across the southern sky throughout the night and eventually set in the west around sunrise each night in August.

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Saturn and Jupiter will remain visible in the night sky throughout the rest of 2021 but will become dimmer as the year progresses.

2. Perseid Meteor Shower When: Aug. 11-12

Photographers and stargazers have had Wednesday, Aug. 11, circled on their calendars for months, so they don't miss the peak of the best annual meteor shower, the Perseids.

"The Perseid meteor shower offers a consistently high rate of meteors every year, and it occurs in August when the temperatures are usually nice enough for a night under the stars," the American Meteor Society said on its website.

Between 60 and 100 meteors an hour could spark in the sky on peak night, which averages one or two every minute.

Meteors streaking across the sky in this compilation image of the 2015 Perseid meteor shower. No changes were made. (mLu.fotos)
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This year will be a good year for viewing the Perseids as the moon will be below the horizon for most of the night, making it easier to spot dimmer meteors. However, human-created light pollution from cities and highways could be an issue near urban areas.

In 2020, the nearly full moon emitted disruptive light all night long, reducing the number of meteors visible to observers around the world.

Shooting stars will start to streak across the sky after nightfall on Aug. 11 with hourly rates gradually increasing as the night transpires, peaking around an hour or two before daybreak on Aug. 12.

3. Blue Moon When: Aug. 21-22

If something only happens once in a blue moon, then it may happen in August when the full moon rises near the end of the month.

A blue moon is typically considered to be the second full moon in a calendar month, but it has an alternate definition that only happens every few years.

Each astronomical season usually has three full moons, but once every two or three years, there is a season that has four full moons. When this happens, the third of the four full moons of the season is considered a seasonal blue moon.

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That is the case this summer with the third of four full moons of the season rising on Aug. 21.

Despite the name, the moon will most likely not appear blue in the sky, but when atmospheric conditions are perfect, it can take on a shade of blue for a time.

"Blue-colored moons are rare - aren't necessarily full - and happen when Earth's atmosphere contains dust or smoke particles of a certain size. The particles must be slightly wider than 900 nanometers," EarthSky explained on its website.

Full moons in August are also called the Sturgeon Moon, the Corn Moon, the Black Cherries Moon and the Mountain Shadows Moon.

Out-of-this-world images from space

This composite image made from six frames shows the International Space Station, with a crew of seven aboard, in silhouette as it transits the sun at roughly 5 miles per second on April 23, 2021, as seen from Nottingham, Md. Aboard are: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Mark Vande Hei; Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov; and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Joining the crew aboard station the next day were Crew-2 mission crew members: Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

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