Categories: Sky Reports
The good news is that the best meteor shower of the year happens this week. The bad news is that bright moonlight will ruin it.
Every year the earth passes through a swarm of debris shed long ago by Comet Swift-Tuttle and we see a meteor shower as these sand-size debris particles fall through our atmosphere and burn up as meteors. The swarm is still fairly condensed – it hasn’t had time to spread out and diffuse – so the shower has a short peak with one meteor every few minutes on the night of August 12th and fewer meteors the few nights before and after. However, this year the moon is full the day before the peak and its bright light will wash out the fainter meteors, just as it washes out the fainter stars. That still leaves the bright ones, which will fall at the rate of one every few minutes, so all is not lost and it’s still worth observing.
To see the shower, get warm and comfortable (but not so comfortable that you fall asleep!) late in the evening (the later the better) and look up. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Perseus, which is low in the northeast at midnight, but they appear all over the sky. If a meteor you see comes from Perseus, it’s a Perseid Meteor and is part of this shower; if it has a different path it’s a random meteor, and they appear too. Perseus rises higher as the hours pass and you’ll see more meteors during the morning hours than the evening. Good luck.
At midnight both Jupiter and Saturn are up too, but both are low. Jupiter has just risen in the east and it’s the brightest thing in the sky other than the moon, which on the 12th is slightly higher in the southeast. Saturn is to the upper right of the moon and it’s as bright as the brightest stars.
Mars rises 2 hours after Jupiter, and it’s in line with Saturn and Jupiter. It’s the same brightness as Saturn.
I had invited people to determine from their own observations when Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars would be equally spaced in the sky. All three planets are moving eastward against the background stars, but their speed depends on their distance from the sun; the closer a planet is to the sun the stronger it feels the sun’s gravity and the faster it travels, in miles per hour as well as in degrees per day, across the sky. That date when they’re precisely equally spaced is August 11th. (On that evening Saturn is almost 5° above the full moon). After the 11th Mars moves on ahead, slowly leaving both Jupiter and Saturn behind.
By far the brightest planet is Venus, which rises 90 minutes before the sun and is almost 20° high at the moment of sunrise. Its great brilliance lets you see it in morning twilight – and beyond, if you know precisely where to look.
Stellar Vista Observatory provides portable telescopes and tripod mounted binocular kits on loan for free to residents and visitors in Kane County. Enhance your enjoyment of the night sky! For details or to request a loan, visit https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/discover-the-night-sky/ or drop in to the Kane County Office of Tourism.
The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at www.stellarvistaobservatory.org. Send questions and comments to John@StargazingAdventures.org.