August: Good Month for Sky Shows

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut
Martz/Kohl Board of Directors

Looking Up in August – Prepare for a shower!
It’s a meteor shower. On the nights of August 11 and 12 the people of Earth will once again be treated to one of the year’s most spectacular meteor showers, the Perseids Meteor Shower.

The Perseids is one of the finest meteor showers to observe. Typically, it produces up to 60 “shooting stars” per hour at its peak. Actually, they are meteors which may be as small as a sand grain and up to a baseball size or, rarely, even bigger. Because of their enormous speed, they pack so much power on hitting Earth’s upper atmosphere that even the small ones blaze brightly and trail a long, fiery streak across the sky.

The Perseids Meteor Shower is the product of the slow disintegration of comet Swift-Tuttle, discovered in 1862. As comets approach the sun on their inward journey through the solar system, they leave behind along their path through deep space, grains and fragments and chunks of their mass. Eventually, Earth plows through those debris trails and turns the falling pieces of comet Swift-Tuttle into blazing meteor showers.

The Perseids are famous for producing a large number of bright meteors. The annual shower can appear anywhere from July 17 to August 24. This year’s peak is expected on the night of August 11 and the early morning hours of August 12. The moon will set shortly after midnight, leaving fairly dark skies for what should provide an excellent early morning show. For best viewing, find a dark location after midnight. Meteors will appear to radiate out of the constellation Perseus, but they can appear almost anywhere in the sky.

Two Bright Lights
Mark your calendar for the night of August 27 to see the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. They will appear to pass very close to each other (called, in conjunction) in the night sky. They will actually be hundreds of millions of miles apart, but their orbits around the sun will briefly align them from our point of view.

This spectacular conjunction of Venus and Jupiter will be clearly visible in the evening sky. The two bright planets will appear to be only 0.06 degrees apart. By comparison, a full moon as seen you’re your back yard is about 0.5 degrees across, or about eight times the separation you will see between Venus and Jupiter on the night of August 27. Look for this impressive pairing in the western sky just after sunset.

Thank You to Guests
The Martz/Kohl Observatory’s mission is to provide the public with inspiration and education about the universe and our place in it through observational astronomy and special programs. Individuals, families and groups are invited to visit. Please see www.martzobservatory.org for schedules and events.

Please note: The guest speaker scheduled for August, Dr. James Lopresto, a longtime friend of Martz/Kohl and frequent speaker, regrets that he will unable to speak at the observatory this month. A revised schedule will be published as soon as possible.

The Martz/Kohl Observatory is a volunteer operated, non-profit, member based organization. Guest donations and membership dues are gratefully received in support of daily operations.

For a deeper look at the night sky, planets, stars and the entire universe, visit the Martz/Kohl Observatory online at martzobservatory.org , check the schedule of events and visit in person. Thank you to Hall and Laury Opticians for sponsoring these Martz/Kohl column.