August skies bring Saturn, Perseid, ISS flybys and Pluto Demotion Day

·3 min read

What’s that star next to the Moon? Chances are it’s a planet. Especially if you stargaze on August 11 when the Full Moon will be next to the planet Saturn after sunset. Saturn is actually closest to Earth for the year on August 14 – an event called opposition. This opposition Saturn will still be about 824 million miles away.

The planet Saturn is shown in this August 19, 2021 photo made through the author's 14-inch telescope. The ringed planet reaches opposition on Aug. 14 which means it rises at sunset and is visible all night.
The planet Saturn is shown in this August 19, 2021 photo made through the author's 14-inch telescope. The ringed planet reaches opposition on Aug. 14 which means it rises at sunset and is visible all night.

The nights of August 12 and 13 will see the Moon rise later and shift eastward (or to the left) of Saturn. But on August 14, it will rise in the eastern sky near an incredibly bright light. That is the planet Jupiter. Jupiter is nearing its own opposition next month and will be about 390 million miles from you.

August 12: Perseid Meteor Shower, Meh This Year

Usually, the annual Perseid Meteor Shower puts on a good show with viewers seeing 12-20 shooting stars streaking across the sky per hour. But this year, it probably will be a bust because the Full Moon will get in the way. The stark white light of the Moon will most likely wash away all but the brightest meteor streaks. So, although you should definitely get out under the stars this month, don’t expect to see many shooting stars mid-month.

In this Dec. 6, 2021, file photo provided by NASA, the International Space Station orbits 264 miles above the Tyrrhenian Sea.
In this Dec. 6, 2021, file photo provided by NASA, the International Space Station orbits 264 miles above the Tyrrhenian Sea.

August 23-26: Space Station Visible in the Morning

The International Space Station (ISS) is the brightest satellite in the night sky. It looks like a dazzling, unblinking point of light slowly moving across background stars. In fact, the ISS is brighter than any star. Only the Moon and Venus are more luminous.

The best times to spot the ISS are just after sunset and just before sunrise. At the end of August, it will pass over the Midwest in the predawn skies. Below are the projected passes, but your time may vary depending on your location.

  • Aug. 23: 6:25-6:32 a.m. moving SW to NE

  • Aug. 24: 5:38-5:43 a.m., face southeast

  • Aug. 25: 6:24-6:31 a.m. face northwest

  • Aug. 26: 5:38-5:42 a.m. face north

August 24: Pluto Demotion Day

On August 24, 2006 a group of internationally renowned astronomers approved a new definition for a planet. And with that vote, Pluto no longer was a planet. The controversial decision sparked (very mild and nerdy) protests from various walks of life.

Of course, this was not the first time the definition of a planet had been updated. In the 1800s astronomers debated the classification of Ceres, Vesta, and other small objects that circled the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Most called these objects “planets” for decades. And by the 1850s, astronomers had identified more than 40 “planets.” The astronomical community decided that these objects were wholly different than the classical planets and kicked them out of the planet club – reclassifying them as asteroids.

Since 2006, astronomers have found hundreds of objects circling the Sun at great distances. And they have discovered thousands of planets orbiting distant stars (called exoplanets). Pluto may not be a planet, but it is an amazing world.

Dean Regas is the Astronomer for the Cincinnati Observatory and author of the books 100 Things to See in the Night Sky and How to Teach Grown-Ups About Pluto. He can be reached at dean@cincinnatiobservatory.org 

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Pluto Demotion Day is coming at the end of this month