Belfast Telegraph

A space odyssey: three cosmic phenomena could be visible on Sunday

On Sunday a rare astronomical event means you will be able to see the International Space Station... it may be just a dot, but here's what will be going on inside

By Linda Stewart

Skywatchers are poised for an astronomical bonanza on August 10 when not one but three cosmic phenomena could appear.

Not only will Ireland enjoy its best supermoon until New Year's Day 2018, but the International Space Station (ISS) will make two overhead passes within two hours – followed by the chance of witnessing shooting stars from the Perseids, a prolific meteor shower.

Skywatchers are praying for clear skies when a supermoon comes at perigee – the point at which the full Moon orbits closest to Earth, making it appear bigger and brighter than usual.

"Some perigees are much closer than others, and this one happens to be the closest of the year, at a distance of 356,895km.

"And it occurs only 27 minutes before full Moon, which is very good," said Terry Moseley, president of the Irish Astronomical Association.

"It also occurs just slightly before the full Moon rises from Ireland, and that means that it will greatly enhance the well-known Moon Illusion, which makes the Moon appear much larger when it's close to the horizon."

Meanwhile, from now until August 21 Irish skywatchers will be able to witness a series of passes of the ISS – the biggest man-made object ever put into space.

"On the evening of August 10, if it's clear, you can see the ISS at about 10.20pm-10.25pm, followed by the rising supermoon, and then later, just before midnight, there will be another pass of the ISS, although it won't be so good – it will disappear into Earth's shadow in the south west before it gets high up," Mr Moseley said.

"Look out for a bright moving point of light, moving roughly from west, through south, to east.

"It will appear to move slowly at first as it comes above the western horizon, then appearing to move faster when it gets closest to us in the southern part of the sky, when it will be much brighter than any of the stars.

"Then, later in the night, if you look at the sky for half-an-hour or so, you should see at least one Perseids meteor."

The annual Perseids meteor shower gets under way at the beginning of August.

It peaks at midnight on August 12-13.

"The radiant will be high in the sky late in the night, near the famous Double Cluster in Perseus, but you can see the meteors in any part of the sky," Mr Moseley said.

"Usually it's best to look at an area about 50 degrees above the horizon, and about 50-60 degrees from the radiant – avoiding direct moonlight if you can."

Earlier this week former ISS astronaut Chris Hadfield, who became famous for his pictures of Earth from the space station and for recording songs in space, tweeted: "My brothers, sister and I just stood on the dock and watched space station soar overhead, brightest star in the sky. Pulls at my thoughts."

Background

The ISS is as big as a US football field, and with more living space than a conventional six-bedroom house. It has two bathrooms, gym and a 360-degree bay window. A spacewalk on August 21 will replace a failed unit to recover full power generation, while a second on August 29 will install a power relay.

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