Thursday, August 5, 2010

Watch For Meteor Shower Next Week

August Skies
By Jon Spargo
New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club

Before we dive into the planet parade I thought I’d spend time talking about the Perseid Meteor Shower. This year’s shower will take place on the 11th through the 13th and we will have excellent viewing conditions since there will be no moonlight to interfere.
The Perseid shower usually lasts for several days. This year the peak is predicted to occur in the early morning hours of the night of the 12th-13th. The best viewing time will be from about 11 pm on the 12th until sunrise on the 13th. However, the predicted peak should not be set in stone, as the nights before and after the peak may also produce some decent numbers of meteors.
If you are lucky enough to find a really dark site you may be able to see as many as 100 meteors per hour during the peak. The best way to watch is from a reclining chair and by looking straight up or toward the northeast along the radiant from which the meteors will come. In other words, find the darkest patch of sky and stare at it! If you are in a cool place remember to have some warm clothes. If in a ‘buggy’ place, don’t forget insect repellant!
Our planetary gathering in the west will continue during most of the month with some interesting combinations of positions. As the month progresses they’ll draw closer to the western horizon and disappear in the sunset afterglow.
Venus will continue to outshine everybody and actually brighten a bit reaching magnitude -4.6 by the end of the month. Mercury will also be barely visible from the 1st through the middle of the month. However it will spend most of that time very close to the western horizon and hard to find by naked eye. Binoculars will be the preferred way to find this tiny planet.
Saturn and Mars begin the month shining above and to the left of Venus. As the month progresses Venus will pass below both of these planets and by the 31st Venus will be within 1 degree of the bright star Spica (in Virgo) and Spica, Mars and Venus should form a new grouping that should last into September.
Jupiter and Uranus will rise together at about 10:30 p.m. daylight time at the beginning of the month and by 8:30 p.m. at the end of the month. During this time the gap between Jupiter and Uranus will close to less than two degrees. If you look just west of Jupiter with a small telescope or a good pair of binoculars, you should be able to pick out the tiny blue orb of Uranus. At magnitude -2.9 Jupiter will be a very fine sight to behold in a small telescope.

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