Status Report

The Sky This Week 2003 August 8 – 25

By SpaceRef Editor
August 18, 2003
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The Moon brightens the mid-August sky before drifting into the pre-dawn hours by the end of the month. The Full Moon occurs on the 12th at 12:48 am Eastern Daylight Time. August’s Full Moon is known as the Green Corn Moon or the Grain Moon, anticipating next month’s Harvest Moon. Last Quarter occurs on the 19th at 8:31 pm EDT. Luna seems to bracket brilliant ruddy Mars on the evenings of the 12th and 13th. On the morning of the 20th, look for the Moon below the rising Pleiades Star Cluster. Before dawn on the 23rd she lies a few degrees north of yellow-tinted Saturn, now climbing higher in the morning sky.

Luna’s nearly full glare all but wipes out this year’s display of the Perseid meteor shower. Shortly after midnight on the morning of the 13th the Earth will plow through the densest portion of a stream of matter sputtered off of the nucleus of Periodic Comet Swift-Tuttle. Under moonless skies this event can produce up to 100 shooting stars per hour, most of which are quite bright and leave persistent trains behind them. However, the dazzle of the Moon will hide all but the brightest meteors from our view. The best bet for this year’s shower is to get up about an hour before dawn on the 9th and 10th, when the Moon will have set and the radiant of the shower will be high in the northeast. You should be able to spot a few dozen Perseids before the first glimmer of twilight begins to brighten the sky.

The big story for the next several weeks will be the brightening planet Mars. The distance between Earth and the red planet is steadily closing, and on the 27th at around 5:11 am EDT we will reach a minimum separation that hasn’t been seen since 57,617 B.C. Mars will be the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon for the next several weeks, and its reddish tint will make it especially eye-catching. However, it is still a small world that’s an enormously long way from us. Telescopic observers are often disappointed at their first glimpse of Mars, since its apparent size is about half that of well-known lunar craters like Copernicus and Tycho. Patient scanning at the eyepiece will reward the dedicated observer, though, as the smudgy dusky patches set in the pink glow of the planet’s deserts may suddenly snap into minute detail as our atmosphere relaxes its usual turbulence for a few precious seconds. Moments like these gave rise to some of the most important discoveries of this strange world, and fired countless imaginations for hundreds of years. That little pink dot can keep one mesmerized for hours on a nice summer night.

Early risers can now begin to get a good look at Saturn before the Sun starts to streak the sky with color. The ringed planet is slowly working his way through the ìfeetî of the Gemini twins, and as he rises the other stars of the winter sky begin to appear before the Sun overwhelms them. Look for Orion to the right of Saturn. It won’t be long before he graces the bracing nights of late fall.

SpaceRef staff editor.