Well I am late posting once again. Summer can be pretty frustrating for astronomers with the high humidity and frequent cloudy skies. We are over the ‘hump’ however and headed into the last weeks of summer and a drier and clearer autumn.
Even in summer you can always see the Sun if you have even a modest telescope and a proper and safe solar filter. The Sun is near the peak of its 11 year activity cycle and there are usually multiple sunspots and frequent flares. Even if you don’t have a telescope, check out the daily solar weather forecast at www.spaceweather.com where you will find cool photos from space and ground based solar telescopes.
After the sun sets look for Saturn Spica and Mars at sunset in southwest. Place close attention to Mars as it has a new robotic resident – the Curiosity rover which landed safely on Mars in the wee hours of August the 6th. Yours truly set the alarm for 1:00 AM and saw the celebration on JPL Mission Control as the SUV-sized robot landed. Be on the lookout for stunning pictures as Curiosity begins its 2+ year survey of Gale crater looking for signs of past life on the red planet.
During the second two weeks of August look for Mars as it moves eastward in Virgo relative to Saturn. The planets appear closest to each other on the night of the 14th when they have less than three degrees of separation.
Remember the summer triangle? Its made up of the 3 brightest stars of the summer sky – Vega, Deneb and Altair. Vega is almost directly overhead and is the corner star in the constellation Lyra.
The Perseid meteor shower peaks from late on the evening of August 12 until morning of the 13th. You may be able to see up to one hundred meteors per hour. The Perseid shower is popular due to its relatively high and consistent meteor count as well occurring at a time of year when vacationers in northern latitudes are often at sites with darker skies than those in cities.
Perseid meteors are named for the constellation Perseus, which is the direction from which these meteors appear to radiate. They originate from fragments of the comet known as 109P/Swift-Tuttle which happen to lie in the path of Earth’s orbit around the sun.
The bes way to watch the Perseids is to recline in a comfortable lounge chair or on a blanket with a good view of the sky towards the northeast after 10 PM. The moon is out of the picture until the early morning.
Jim Stratigos – Resident Astronomer