Tuesday, August 5, 2008

night sky august 2008

this month provides many nice planetary alignments and the perseids meteor shower: usually the best of the year!

five planets will be visible with the naked eye this month: mercury, venus, mars, jupiter, and saturn!! starting on august 11th, we'll be able to see mercury, venus, and saturn approaching each other low on the western horizon. they'll be challenging to see since they are settling early with the sun, but all the planets are bright so they should be spottable... venus will be the brightest at magnitude -3.9, the mercury at -0.6 and saturn will be the faintest of the three at 0.8. mars hangs above the trio and jupiter shines brightly in the southern sky (see full night sky maps here).

august 13th provides a closeness between venus and saturn of less than a degree in the sky. if you hold out your arm at full length, your pointing index finger (one degree across) will easily block both planets! also on this night, the bright planet jupiter in the south will be 3 degrees north of the moon!

on august 16th, there will be a partial lunar eclipse visible from much of the world, best in africa and europe. since we just saw such a brilliant total solar eclipse due to the tight alignment of the sun, the moon, and the earth as the moon passed between the larger orbs, it's not surprising that the three are still aligned so tightly as the moon swings around the opposite side of the earth and passes thru our shadow!

after mid-august, saturn sinks in the sky each night, while mercury and venus rise higher. venus will shine brightly after sunset for the rest of the year, returning to its status as the "evening star." on august 20th, mercury and venus will be less than a degree apart, and both very bright!

the perseids meteor shower occurs between august 11-13th this year, peaking before dawn on august 12th for north american viewers. look below the sideways "W" of cassiopeia in the northeast to find the direction from which all the meteors will be shooting across the sky: the radiant. in reality, if you stand outside under the dark sky for a little while, you'll most likely see one bright streak or more overhead per minute after the gibbous moon sets at 1:30 am EDT.


1 comment:

Steve Jeffery said...

Mmm, Perseids. In years gone by I've been lucky enough to enjoy them lying in a field in Oxfordshire (http://www.fairportconvention.com/cropredy.php) but more recently the weekend's been occupied celebrating the birthday of a friend who lives in north London. The city glow does rather put a damper on the display, but it's still worth looking out for them.