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Astronomy: The Perseid Meteors Rain Down

August 2013 BOBJANDipperChumackHRweb Lyrid

One of the best meteor showers of the year is the Perseids, which peaks over the weekend of August 10/11 and into the 12th. From 50 to 100 meteors an hour is possible. Like most meteor showers, the Perseids produce their best show before dawn, but the constellation Perseus rises after the sun sets in the north-northeast, therefore any time of evening will still give you decent odds of catching some meteors. This shower often produces fireballs and swift-moving meteors and is courtesy of debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle.

For planet watchers, Venus is still eye-catching in the west at sunset. It glides under the feet of Leo the Lion, heading toward Virgo. On August 9, find the crescent moon is to the lower left of Venus after sunset. On August 11, Venus crosses the border into Virgo, heading toward the constellation’s brightest star, Spica, but the two won't meet until September. The moon, however, visits Saturn and Spica on August 12, lying between them as it shines at 35-percent lit.

For early risers, the beginning of August shows three planets and the moon joining together in the east. Jupiter will be above Mars with Mercury at bottom, and the moon will be to the right of Jupiter in the predawn hours of August 3. On August 4, the moon has shifted down the line of planets until it’s between Mars and Mercury. By August 4, the old moon slips below the line of planets as the sun begins to rise. Another chance for early morning planet-watching comes at the end of the month, when Jupiter and the moon can be found side-by-side in the predawn sky.

The summer triangle, composed of the bright stars Vega near overhead, Deneb in the east and Altair in the southeast, is easy to find soon after sunset. Vega, the fifth brightest star in the sky, is surrounded by a dusty disk that could contain planets forming or already in existence. Vega is about 800 million years old, which most scientists believe is too young for life to have taken hold on any such planets.

Deneb, a short-lived blue-white supergiant, is only about 10 million years old, and yet it’s nearly at the end of its life, possibly even having already undergone a supernova that we just haven’t yet observed. While Vega and Altair are fairly close to us at 25 and 17 light-years away, Deneb’s brilliance is seen across more than a thousand light-years. Therefore, if it has recently exploded, it will take a thousand years for us to observe its death.

On August 20 the moon reaches full phase at 6:45 p.m. PDT. August’s Full Moon is sometimes called the Sturgeon Moon.

(Photo: A couple enjoys a meteor shower by John Chumack.)

HS_KellyWhittKelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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