Seven Saturn Moons, Some Perseids Persist, and a Dark Milky Way Weekend!
The Perseid Meteor Shower Tapers Off…
The Perseid Meteor Shower peaked yesterday. Over the next several nights the quantity will be reduced somewhat, but the meteors are still worth looking for. Try to find a dark viewing location with as much open sky as possible. You can start watching as soon as it’s dark. Don’t worry about watching the radiant. Bring a blanket and a chaise to avoid neck strain. And remember that binoculars and telescopes will not help. Their field of view is too narrow. Good hunting! By the way — next year the moon will be new when the Perseids peak, setting up a fantastic show.
Sun, Moon, and Planets
On Monday night, the Moon reaches its Last Quarter phase, when it sits at right angles to the Sun and is half illuminated (on the east). At this stage of the moon’s orbit, it rises after midnight and lingers well into the daytime morning sky. It also means we’re only a week away from the New Moon and the solar eclipse of Monday afternoon, August 21! The upcoming weekend’s moonless nights will be perfect for seeing the splendor of the Milky Way for those away from city lights.
After the moon rises in the eastern sky about 1 am local time on Wednesday, August 16, look for the bright star Aldebaran just above it. Observers in the Northern tip of South America, Caribbean, northernmost Africa, Europe, Middle East, west Asia will actually see the moon cross in front of (or occult) the star shortly after midnight EDT. In the eastern pre-dawn sky on Saturday, August 19, Venus and the old crescent Moon will rise together after 3:30 am local time. Visible until dawn, the moon will be about 4° (four finger widths) below the bright planet and they’ll make a pretty sight.
Jupiter is the extremely bright object low in the southwestern evening sky. It sets about 10:20 pm local time. Saturn is the medium-bright, yellowish object partway up the southern sky after the evening sky darkens. It sets in the west about 1:30 am local time. Over the next few evenings, Saturn’s moon Mimas, which normally sits too close to the rings to be easily seen, ventures far enough away to be spotted in good telescopes — bringing all seven of the bright moons within reach of backyard stargazers. (Use an astronomy app to identify which moon is which — remembering that your telescope may flip and/or invert the view.)
This summer, look for the easy to recognize star pattern called the Teapot sitting about two fist diameters to the lower left of Saturn. The stars of Scorpius (the Scorpion) flank Saturn on the lower right. The scorpion’s brightest star, reddish Antares is only a generous fist width to Saturn’s right (west).
Blue-green Uranus, in Pisces (the Fishes) rises about 10:30 pm local time and is visible for the rest of the night in binoculars under a dark sky. Tiny blue Neptune, which is observable all night, is in the southeastern sky about two finger widths to the lower left of the medium-bright star Hydor in Aquarius (the Water-Bearer).
Extremely bright Venus rises in the eastern sky about 3:25 am local time and can be seen easily until dawn. This week, the planet continues to descend slowly sunwards, dropping below Gemini (the Twins). Viewed in a telescope, the planet presents a more than half illuminated phase.
Stargazing News for this week (from August 13th) by Chris Vaughan.