August new moon 2021: Dark skies set the stage for bright Perseid meteors

The new moon arrives on Sunday (Aug. 8), and three days later a thin crescent moon will pass Venus in the evening sky. It also comes just as the Perseid meteor shower gets more intense.

Because the four-day-old moon will not be very bright, skywatchers don’t need to worry about it washing out the fainter meteors when the shower peaks on Thursday (Aug. 12). It also sets that night by about 10:30 p.m. local time in mid-northern latitudes, leaving the meteors to shine most of the night.

The moon is officially new at 9:50 a.m. EDT (1350 GMT) on Sunday. A new moon means the moon is directly between the sun and Earth. Technically, both objects are in conjunction, or on the same north-south line that passes through the celestial pole, near the star Polaris. (The term is also applied to other celestial bodies, such as planets).

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The timing of the lunar phases depends on where the moon is relative to the Earth, so it occurs at the same time all over the world — the only differences being due to what time zone you are in. In Melbourne, Australia, for example, the new moon occurs at 11:50 p.m. on Aug. 8, and in London it is at 1:50 p.m.

Since the new moon is between Earth and the sun, it is invisible unless there is a solar eclipse. Eclipses don’t happen every new moon because the moon’s orbit is tilted by about 5 degrees relative to the plane of the Earth’s orbit. Most of the time the new moon is offset from the sun (from the point of view of Earthbound observers), rising and setting at around the same time. The next solar eclipse isn’t until Dec. 4, 2021.

Visible planets…

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