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Space and astronomy digest: August 2013

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 July 2013 14:51
Published on Monday, 29 July 2013 15:42

The August digest of upcoming space and astronomy events. This month sees the maximum of the Perseids meteor shower, the launch of the Japanese SPRINT-A observatory to study planetary atmospheres and the flight of the Kounotori 4 cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station.


3 August: Launch of Kounotori 4 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS)

Kounotori 2 smallThe Kounotori 2 spacecraft on its approach to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA. Click for a larger image

The launch of the Kounotori 4 spacecraft (also known as HTV-4) to the ISS is set for the morning of 4 August (mid-evening on 3 August in the UK). Operated by the Japanese space agency JAXA, the cargo ship will take off atop a HII-B rocket from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex of the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. Kounotori 4 will be loaded with 5.4 tonnes of cargo for the Space Station, including scientific and maintenance equipment. After docking on 9 and 10 August, the crew will unload the cargo before loading the spacecraft with waste. Kounotori 4 is scheduled to undock on 5 September and will then be directed to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere 2 days later.

Kounotori 4 

12-13 August: Maximum of Perseid meteor shower


The evening of 12 August sees the annual maximum of the Perseids meteor shower. Meteors (popularly known as 'shooting stars') are the result of small particles entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed. In this case the material comes from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed near the Earth in 1992. This shower of meteors appears to originate from a 'radiant' in the constellation of Perseus, hence the name Perseid.

The shower is active from around 17 July to 24 August, although for most of that period only a few meteors an hour will be visible. From the UK the best time to see the Perseid shower is likely to be on the evening of 12 August and into the morning of 13 August, when as many as 60 meteors an hour may be seen. This year prospects for the shower are relatively good, although the light from the waxing crescent Moon may reduce the visibility of meteors during the first part of the evening.

International Meteor Organisation: 2013 calendar


22 August: Launch of SPRINT-A

Due for launch on 22 August, the JAXA Spectroscopic Planet for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere (SPRINT-A) mission will be the first space telescope dedicated to remote study of Venus, Mars and Jupiter's moon Io. SPRINT-A will study the atmospheres of the two planets and Io in extreme ultraviolet light.

Planetary scientists will use data from the observatory to better understand how the three worlds (and the Earth) developed so differently over the history of the Solar System.

JAXA: Sprint-A


Night sky in August

Information on stars, planets, comets, meteor showers and other celestial phenomena is available from the British Astronomical Association (BAA), the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA) and the Jodrell Bank night sky guide.



The Night Sky: Jodrell Bank


Notes for editors

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS,, founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3500 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

Follow the RAS on Twitter via @royalastrosoc