Three spacecraft from three different countries have been launched recently, all heading Mars.

China, the United Arab Emirates, and the USA are all making the six to eight-month trip to the red planet with all expected to reach Mars between February and April of 2021. Interestingly, NASA’s craft named Perseverance will release the first helicopter to fly on another world.

Comet Neowise

A fair number of us have revelled in seeing the best naked-eye comet in decades, but time has all but run out for sighting Comet Neowise in the evening sky as the celestial visitor moves away from earth.

Widely photographed across the globe, Comet Neowise didn’t quite gain the astronomy tag of being a ‘Great Comet’, but one has to wonder what sort of an earth it will encounter when the comet returns in approximately 6,700 years’ time!

Viewing: binoculars/telescope


Almost directly overhead and one of the first stars to appear in the twilight during August is Vega, in the constellation of Lyra.

Vega appears bluey white in colour, and in 1850 became the first star, (after our own sun), to be photographed.

Vega has a radius of 1.1 million miles, about 2.5 times bigger than the sun. The star rotates every 12.5 hours at a speed of approximately 146 miles per second at the equator. Vega has a ring of dust around it possibly indicating the presence of a planetary system.

Viewing: naked eye

Perseids meteor shower

August sees the peak of one of the richest annual meteor showers, the Perseids.

Peak activity for the Perseids falls on consecutive nights, August 10/11/12, with an expected hourly rate of around 110 meteors per hour.

You don’t have to wait for these dates, as the shower will continue for a time after, and is already under way, but during peak activity, the earth passes through the densest part of the debris left in the wake of Comet Swift-Tuttle, that rubble burning up in the atmosphere blazes of light, hence the term ‘shooting star’. The shower will be at its best in the early hours of the morning. Look high in the north east.

Viewing: naked eye.


There are several planets on view this month, but if you’re up watching the shower, you’ll be joined by the brilliant Venus in the pre-dawn sky.

A crescent moon will be positioned near to Venus on August 15/16. Mars will also be on view low in the east around midnight.

Both Jupiter and Saturn will appear close to the moon on August 28/29. On the 29th, the moon will appear under Saturn, with Jupiter, (looking brighter than Saturn), over to the right.

Viewing: naked eye/binoculars/telescope.

Society News

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak all society meetings are currently postponed until further notice.

Moon phases

Third quarter August 11; new moon August 19; first quarter August 25.

Sunrise/Sunset Times

Start of August: sun rises at 5.36am and sets at 8.59pm. End of August: sun rises at 6.23am and sets at 7.59pm.

South Wales Argus astronomy columnist Jon Powell has been interested in astronomy since the early 1980s and combining his passion for the topic with that of writing he regularly contributes to local newspapers, Astronomy Now, and the BBC Sky at Night Magazine. He is also a regular on the radio, including Roy Nobles Radio Wales programme. He has published three books on the subject and is involved with the Association for Astronomy Education, helping to bring astronomy more into the public domain. He is also involved locally with the Campaign for Dark Skies.