Stargazing: Watch out for solar eclipse next month, but please avoid looking directly at sun

THE Simmer Dim is receding and the dark nights are set to return.

Astronomical darkness returns on the 20th August but the sky will still be dark enough to watch the planets in the weeks before that.

The main highlights for August though are two partial eclipses – one of the sun and the other of the moon.

On 1st August the sun rises at 4.45am and sets at 9.35pm, while the moon rises at 4.20am and sets at 9.36pm.

Sun                        Moon
Rise Set                  Rise Set
1st      4:45am 9:35pm     4:20am 9:36pm
15th    5:19am 8:57pm    8:41pm 2:52am
30th    5:55am 8:14pm    5:14am 7:51pm

The full moon is on the 16th and new moon is on the 1st.

Evening – Sunset to 1am

The planet Jupiter will be low in the south in the late evening. It is never going to be a good view that low but the four Gallilean moons should be visible in binoculars and you should see the position of them change from night to night and even hour to hour if we get a good evening.

During the lunar eclipse on the 16th, put the moon at the left hand edge of your binocular field. If the sky clarity permits you may see a faint “star” near the middle of your view. This is the planet Neptune and this eclipse may well be one of the easiest ways to find it.

Morning – 1am to sunrise

There is a faint comet you may like to try for if you are an early riser or out looking for noctilucent clouds. This is Comet P19 Borrelly. It is just to the right of the two main stars of Gemini – Castor and Pollux – at the beginning of the month. By the 20th it is below the two main stars and by the end of the month has moved to the left of them. You may well find it in binoculars but it will be too faint for the naked eye. The best time to see the comet may be the morning of the 28th. Find the very thin crescent moon low in the north east and then look just over a binocular field further up and you may well see the faint comet and tail.

The meteor shower for August is the Perseids. The main part of the shower can be seen on the night of the 12-13th but meteors do start to be seen in the first week of the month.

The first day of the month has a partial solar eclipse. The event starts at around 9:25am and finishes around 11.20am with the sun nearly half covered at about 10.20am. The eclipse itself is total from northern Canada, across northern Greenland, into Russia and finishing up in China. As Shetland is south of the main track we see only part of the sun obscured.

It is very important that you do not look directly at the sun with your naked eye or an optical instrument – unless you want to go blind. The easiest and safest way to see the eclipse is to use binoculars to project the sun’s image onto a piece of white card.

A far safer eclipse to look at is the partial lunar eclipse on the evening of the 16th. The moon rises in the east at around 8.45pm already with the eclipse having started. As the moon rises and the sky gets darker the eclipse becomes deeper. By 10.20pm the moon is still only eight degrees above the horizon and the upper portion of the moon never totally disappears before the shadow starts to recede. At around 11.45pm it is all over and you will be staring at a full moon.

Let’s hope for clear skies.

Chris Brown


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