Meteor shower strikes August skies

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The August showstopper will be the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. This year the shower has two things going for it that should make meteor watching a fun event. The first is that the waxing crescent Moon will set about mid-evening, leaving the skies dark for meteor watching. The second is that the actual peak of the shower will occur during daylight hours on the 12th for North America. What this means is the shower should be visible on the night of Aug. 11-12 and again during the night of Aug. 12-13.

This year the predicted high numbers are for about 100 meteors per hour. However, since that will occur during the day, expect lower numbers for both nights. As always the best time to see the Perseids will be just after midnight and up to the pre-dawn hours. That is when the radiant (point of origin) will be high in the northeastern sky. This will probably turn out to be an average year for the Perseids, which originate from the debris trail of comet Swift-Tuttle. Swift-Tuttle last came by in the early 1990s and is not due back again until 2122.

Venus will continue to dominate the early evening sky. Shining at magnitude -4.0 it hangs on the western horizon setting about 1.5 hours after the Sun. Venus will spend the month moving toward the bright star Spica (in Virgo) ending the month only 5 degrees from the star.

Saturn is heading west. At the beginning of the month its separation from Venus is more than 53 degrees in the early evening sky. By the end of the month Saturn and Venus will be separated by only 18 degrees and it will set only 2.5 hours after the Sun. Early August will be the last best chance for you ring watchers to see the rings through a telescope. Saturn remains to the east of Spica for the entire month.

If you are an early riser then you are in luck as Mercury, Mars and Jupiter will provide some interesting planet watching. Mercury brightens during the first half of August but appears lower each morning. We will lose sight of it around mid-month.

Jupiter rises around 3:30 a.m. followed by Mars about a half hour later. At 5 degrees apart, both planets can be found in Gemini (the Twins). On Aug. 18 Mars will pass by the bright star Pollux in Gemini. The two planets rise a bit earlier each morning and by the 31st Mars is fully 25 degrees above the horizon with Jupiter even higher.

The Moon will be new on the 6th, first quarter on the 14th, full on the 20th and last quarter on the 28th. Looking east on the 3rd, about 45 minutes before sunrise, the waning crescent Moon will be just above and to the right of Jupiter. On the 4th the thin crescent Moon will be slightly below and to the left of Mars. A day later on the 5th a barely visible crescent Moon will be below Mercury.

Looking west-southwest 30 minutes after sunset on the nights of the 9th through the 12th, the new crescent Moon passes below Venus on the 9th. On the 11th the Moon will be just below and to the right of the bright star Spica (in Virgo) and finally on the 12th it will be just below and to the left of Saturn.