August 2021

• July 13th, 2021

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August is good for two things in the sky: bright planets and bright meteors.  Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter reign supreme this month, with the annual Perseid Meteor Shower heating things up with spectacular observing conditions for mid-month.

         Welcome to Observing With Webb, where a high school astronomy teacher tells you what you’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what you should check out later this month…at night. 

 

Naked-eye PLANETS...

Sunset – Venus

  • Venus (W) – Staying about 15˚ above the horizon all month, Venus is a glorious sight for those looking West after sunset.
  • Mars, Mercury (W) – Mars is technically in the West after sunset, but is super low, and pretty dim, so it’s doubtful you’ll be able to pick it out. Mercury passes my Mars on the 18th, but again, it’s too low and too dim to see.

Throughout the night – Saturn, Jupiter

  • Saturn, Jupiter – Throughout August, Saturn rises around 8pm, and Jupiter just after 9pm, both in the SE. Both gas planets rise and move southward.  In the beginning of August, they get drowned out by the dawn light in the SW in the morning.  But by the end of the month, Saturn sets at 4am, with Jupiter trailing at 5:30am.

Morning – Saturn, Jupiter

  • Saturn, Jupiter – This is the last month of seeing Jupiter and Saturn in the dawn sky. You’ll notice that they are quite visible in the SW before sunrise, but they will be lower and lower each morning,  with Saturn disappearing in the beginning of the month, and Jupiter dipping out before the last week.

 

EVENTS...

Morning Crescents (look East in the AM)

New Moon – 8th (darkest skies)

Evening Crescents (look West after Sunset)

First Quarter Moon – 15th (Visible until midnight)

Evening Gibbous (Mostly lit, after Sunset)

Full Moon – 22nd (Visible all night)

Waning Gibbous (Mostly lit, rises later at night)

Last Quarter Moon – 30th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

 

August 10th – 11thClose Encounter – Moon, Venus – Get out there and watch the sunset (8:07pm) and hang out until you see bright Venus with a thin crescent Moon directly to the right of it on the 10th.  The following night, the Moon will move to the left and up from Venus.

 

August 11th – 12thPerseid Meteor Shower – An EXCELLENT year for the Perseids!  In decent skies, you can watch 60 meteors per hour, and you should be able to see some very bright ones here and there the week before and after. Remember, you’re seeing the bits of dust left over from Comet Swift-Tuttle burning up as they crash into the atmosphere at 37 miles per second.

Some advice for watching:

    Find a dark location and lie down in a reclining chair or hammock

    Look toward Perseus (In the NE, rises throughout the night until sunrise where it will be almost directly above.)  That is where the radiant is - where the meteors will appear to be coming from.

    The strategy to observe this year is to get out there whenever you can, but the later you stay up, the more you’ll see, since the radiant will be higher.  The shower is usually technically active from mid-July to late August, so you may see some Perseids in the days leading up to and after the peak as well. 

Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear

Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something. 

If you’re feeling extra nerdy, do a scientific meteor count (S&T and IMO)

 

19th – 22ndClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn, Jupiter – Anytime after 9pm, get out there and look SE to find the Moon, Saturn, and Jupiter.  On the 19th, they line up with Jupiter on the left, Saturn in the middle, and the Moon on the right.  After this, the Moon passes by the two gas planets, being just below Saturn on the 20th, down and to the right of Jupiter on the 21st, and to the left of both planets on the 22nd.  All three move westward throughout each night, setting between 4am and 6am.

 

CONSTELLATIONS...

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.

After Dinner, Before Bed:

Spring Constellations: Big Dipper, Bootes, Virgo, Corona Borealis, Hercules – Gaze almost vertically as you face the NW, and you’ll easily find the Big Dipper: seven very bright stars that form a spoon shape. Now if you take the handle of the Dipper, follow its curve to the next bright star you see, about 30˚ away, which is Arcturus. “Follow the arc to Arcturus.” That’s the brightest star in Bootes, which looks like a kite. Take that same curve, and follow it about another 20˚ to “speed on to Spica”, the brightest star in Virgo, one of my favorite constellations, since it reminds me of the Dickinson Mermaid.  Now go back to Bootes, and just to the left of Bootes are seven stars that form the northern crown Corona Borealis, which looks more like a small bowl or a “C” in the sky. Continue a little further to the left and you’ll find the keystone asterism which is part of the constellation Hercules. Extra Challenge! Look for M13, the Hercules Cluster in between two of Hercules’ “keystone” stars.  It known as the best globular cluster in the northern skies.  It will be a fuzzy spot in binoculars and will be even cooler through a telescope

Summer Constellations: Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila – Look pretty much straight above you, and find the brightest star up there. You’ll notice a parallelogram attached to it. This is the brightest star Vega, part of the constellation Lyra, the harp. Directly above you will be Cygnus the Swan, with its brightest star Deneb. It will look like a large cross, or if you look out a little further, a swan flying above you. Below Cygnus and Lyra is the third constellation of the Summer Triangle, Aquila the Eagle, with its brightest star Altair. The three bright stars in this one can be easily confused for Orion’s belt, given their similar size, however they are not in line as straight, and are part of a bigger diamond shape.  Use a star chart to find small Delphinus and Sagitta in the area as well.

Before Work:

Pegasus, Andromeda – Look directly south and most of the way up the sky and you’ll find the very big and almost perfect square of Pegasus, the winged horse. Now if you look to the top left of the square, you’ll see three pairs of stars creating a neat double curve to the left and up from that corner star. That is Andromeda. If you have a little extra time, find the middle pair of stars, connect them with a line, and move toward the inside of the curve about the same distance as those stars are apart. There you’ll find the Andromeda Galaxy, which will be just a small faint fuzzy with your naked eye. The cool part is that you are looking at billions of stars that are 2.9 million light years away, that spread out about 150,000 light years across

Don’t forget this podcast is found on my Podbean page, Stitcher, and iTunes.  There’s also a video version on my YouTube Channel and I can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @mrwebbpv. The Pequea Valley Planetarium and its events and updates are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as @pvplanetarium.

 


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July 2021

• July 13th, 2021

         Like fireworks, July is mostly quiet and dull, but the noisy and bright events really make it worthwhile.  We have two pairs of planets, visible during opposite times in opposite places, and surreptitious visits from the Moon.

         Welcome to Observing With Webb, where a high school astronomy teacher tells you what you’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what you should check out later this month…at night. 

 

Naked-eye PLANETS

Sunset – Mars, Venus

  • Mars (W) – This is your last month to see Mars for a couple more months, as Earth flies around the Sun opposite of Mars in August. Just look West after sunset but before 9:30pm.  You might have some help from Venus and the Moon midmonth.   
  • Venus (W) – Staying about 15˚ above the horizon all month, Venus is a glorious sight for those looking West around the time fireworks start.

Throughout the night – Saturn, Jupiter

  • Saturn, Jupiter – I might be jumping the gun here a little bit, but sometimes we stay up late in the Summer. Saturn rises around 10:30pm, with Jupiter rising about an hour later.  Look low in the ESE around this time and you’ll see bright Jupiter down and to the left of bright, but less so, Saturn.  Now that’s in the beginning of the month, and they rise earlier and earlier each day.  By the end of July, Saturn and Jupiter rise around 8:15pm and 9:15pm, respectively, during dusk.  Of course, this means it’s a great time for checking out Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons through your telescopes, but you’ll probably want to stay up until, or get up early in, the morning, when they are higher in the sky, and thus clearer in the telescope.

Morning – Saturn, Jupiter

  • Saturn, Jupiter – Speaking of staying up to observe Saturn and Jupiter, where are they around Sunrise? In the beginning of July, before 5am, look S or SE almost half-way up the sky, and Saturn will be to the right and little down from the very bright Jupiter.  But at the end of July, both will be close to setting in the SW during the 5:30am dawn, with Jupiter about 15˚ higher than Saturn. 

 

EVENTS

Last Quarter Moon – 1st (Visible from midnight into the morning)

Morning Crescents (look East in the AM)

New Moon – 9th (darkest skies)

Evening Crescents (look West after Sunset)

First Quarter Moon – 17th (Visible until midnight)

Evening Gibbous (Mostly lit, after Sunset)

Full Moon – 23rd (Visible all night)

Waning Gibbous (Mostly lit, rises later at night)

Last Quarter Moon – 30th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

 

July 11th – 14thClose Encounter – Moon, Venus, Mars – Not only are Mars and Venus getting less than a degree from each other on the 12th, the Moon is joining the party!  Get out there after sunset, but before 9:30 and look West.  The easiest to find will likely be the bright beacon known as Venus.  On the 11th, Mars will be only a pinky-width to the left, but very dim, while a 2 day old crescent Moon hangs out about 3 finger-widths to the right at about the same height.  The best night is likely the 12th, when Mars and Venus are half as far apart as the previous night, and the Moon is thicker and easier to find just 6˚ up and to the left, with Leo the lion right above the Moon.  Over the next two nights, the Moon leaves the party, through Leo, and Mars and Venus separate, but are still in the same area.  Get out those binoculars and telescopes! Find a good horizon!  You’ll be looking at the three closest worlds to earth all in one view!

22nd – 26thClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn, Jupiter – After 10:30pm look SE, or before dawn look SW to find the Moon, with bright Jupiter and Saturn nearby.  The Moon is far to the right of Saturn on the nights of the 22nd and 23rd.  On the 24th the Moon moves in between the planets, and closes in below Jupiter on the 25th, and leaves this party on the 26th.

 

CONSTELLATIONS...

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.

After Dinner, Before Bed:

Spring Constellations: Big Dipper, Bootes, Virgo, Corona Borealis, Hercules – Gaze almost vertically as you face the NW, and you’ll easily find the Big Dipper: seven very bright stars that form a spoon shape. Now if you take the handle of the Dipper, follow its curve to the next bright star you see, about 20˚ away, which is Arcturus. “Follow the arc to Arcturus.” That’s the brightest star in Bootes, which looks like a kite. Take that same curve, and follow it about another 20˚ to “speed on to Spica”, the brightest star in Virgo, one of my favorite constellations, since it reminds me of the Dickinson Mermaid.  Now go back to Bootes, and just to the left of Bootes are seven stars that form the northern crown Corona Borealis, which looks more like a small bowl or a “C” in the sky. Continue a little further to the left and you’ll find the keystone asterism which is part of the constellation Hercules. Extra Challenge! Look for M13, the Hercules Cluster in between two of Hercules’ “keystone” stars.  It known as the best globular cluster in the northern skies.  It will be a fuzzy spot in binoculars and will be even cooler through a telescope

Summer Constellations: Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila – Look pretty much straight above you, and find the brightest star up there. You’ll notice a parallelogram attached to it. This is the brightest star Vega, part of the constellation Lyra, the harp. Directly above you will be Cygnus the Swan, with its brightest star Deneb. It will look like a large cross, or if you look out a little further, a swan flying above you. Below Cygnus and Lyra is the third constellation of the Summer Triangle, Aquila the Eagle, with its brightest star Altair. The three bright stars in this one can be easily confused for Orion’s belt, given their similar size, however they are not in line as straight, and are part of a bigger diamond shape.  Use a star chart to find small Delphinus and Sagitta in the area as well.

Before Work:

Pegasus, Andromeda – Look directly south and most of the way up the sky and you’ll find the very big and almost perfect square of Pegasus, the winged horse. Now if you look to the top left of the square, you’ll see three pairs of stars creating a neat double curve to the left and up from that corner star. That is Andromeda. If you have a little extra time, find the middle pair of stars, connect them with a line, and move toward the inside of the curve about the same distance as those stars are apart. There you’ll find the Andromeda Galaxy, which will be just a small faint fuzzy with your naked eye. The cool part is that you are looking at billions of stars that are 2.9 million light years away, that spread out about 150,000 light years across.

Don’t forget this podcast is found on my Podbean page, Stitcher, and iTunes.  There’s also a video version on my YouTube Channel and I can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @mrwebbpv. The Pequea Valley Planetarium and its events and updates are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as @pvplanetarium.

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