A multicolored, long Perseid meteor striking the sky in 2009 just to the left of Milky Way. Courtesy/wikipedia
Three Upcoming Dixon Star Parties:
El Valle Astronomers is planning three upcoming Star Parties at the Dixon Ballfield in August. The dates are Saturday Aug. 8, Wednesday Aug. 12 and Saturday Aug. 15. For all three, meet in front of the Dixon Coop Market at 8 p.m. and President Lee Mesibov will lead the procession up the hill to the Dixon Ballfield.
The big Perseid event is Wednesday, Aug. 12. Bring folding chairs and tarps, blankets and pillows, food and drinks. Lie back and make a late evening of it. The meteor shower gets better as the night progresses.
The good news for viewing is that the sky will be dark, as the moon does not rise until 1:30 a.m., and even then will be a thin sliver of a waxing crescent that is only 5 percent visible.
For further information, contact Lee Mesibov at 505.579.4604 or firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, check with Lee if you are uncertain about the star party because of the weather.
Summer Vacation Skywatching Through Aug. 25:
The highlight of August is the annual Perseid meteor shower, which peaks Aug. 12-13. The shower is active from mid-July through late August, and early morning skywatchers can expect to see a few Perseids on any night during this period.
The shower occurs as the Earth crosses the orbit of Periodic Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle and runs into the debris sputtered off the comet’s nucleus during its 130-year journey around the Sun. The comet was co-discovered by Harvard College Observatory astronomer Horace P. Tuttle on July 18, 1862. In August of that year, when the comet was at its visual peak, he resigned his position at Harvard and joined the Union Army, fighting with the 44th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia.
After surviving one campaign he joined the Navy, serving another 10 years as paymaster on a Union ship. He made occasional observations at the Naval Observatory, where he co-discovered Periodic Comet Tempel-Tuttle, progenitor of the annual Leonid meteor shower, in 1866.
The Perseid meteors will peak at a time when the moon is a very thin crescent in the morning sky, so conditions should be ideal for watching them. The best time to look is after midnight Aug. 12-13. Find a place with a wide unobstructed view of the sky, lie down, and look up. If the weather is clear and you’re in a dark location, you may see 50 to 75 meteors per hour!
Venus and Jupiter are now lost in the glare of evening twilight. Both planets reach conjunction with the Sun during August. Venus will pass between the Earth and Old Sol Aug. 15, while Jupiter slips behind the Sun’s disc Aug. 26.
The only bright planet left in the evening sky is Saturn, which can be seen in the southwestern sky as evening twilight deepens. The ringed planet sets at around 1:20 a.m. as August opens.
By Aug. 21 he slips below the horizon at midnight. The ringed planet reaches the second stationary point in the current apparition Aug. 2. Over the course of the next few weeks he’ll begin creeping eastward toward the stars in the head of Scorpius. He remains a fine sight in the telescope, with his rings tipped 24 degrees toward our line of sight.
If you’re vacationing away from the city, the summer Milky Way shines overhead at the midnight hour for the month of August. As we gaze toward the tail of Scorpius and the “spot” of the teapot-shaped asterism in Sagittarius we’re looking toward the galactic center through dense clouds of stars and gas.
These star clouds are some of the most intriguing sights you can enjoy with steadily-held binoculars and small low-power telescopes. The numbers of stars you’ll run into is simply enormous, and sprinkled among them are bright knots of glowing gas and star clusters of many forms. I’ll be spending many evenings out in a lawn chair taking in the view. Click here.
Pajarito Astronomers in White Rock:
Upcoming Saturday dates and start times of the Pajarito Astronomers 2015 County-Sponsored Dark Nights at Spirio Soccer Field at Overlook Park in White Rock. Some of the evening’s solar-system objects also are listed:
- Aug. 8 (8 p.m.) Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus
- Sept. 12 (7:15 p.m.) Mercury, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus
- Oct. 17 (6:25 p.m.) Crescent Moon, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus
- Nov. 7 (5:05 p.m.) Saturn, Neptune, Uranus