Photo of the Week.. The great Orion Nebula graces
the middle star of Orion's sword.
It is an illuminated "blister" on the front of the dark giant Orion
Molecular Cloud. The oddly-shaped patch to lower right is an
internal reflection in the optics. (University of Illinois Prairie
Astronomy news for the two-week-plus period starting Friday,
August 2, 2002. The next Skylights will appear Sunday, August 18.
In this extended summer Skylights, the Moon
passes two of the quarterings of its orbit, new Moon on Thursday
August 8th, and first quarter, when we see half Moon's daylight
side, on Thursday, the 15th. Shortly before new Moon, on the
morning of Monday August 5, the waning crescent will be seen just
to the east of Saturn,
which has now nicely cleared morning twilight in Taurus. On the other side of new,
you might be able to catch the slim waxing crescent to the right of
Mercury the evening of Friday, the 9th, though bright western
twilight will make the passing very difficult to see. Much easier
to see will be a nice alignment of the larger crescent with Venus
on the evening of Sunday the 11th, the brilliant planet 6 degrees
to the south of the Moon.
The planets offer their own events. Mercury will undergo a near-
invisible conjunction with the star Regulus on Monday the 5th. Not long
ago, the bright outer planets were aligned in the west. One after
the other they disappeared in twilight. Saturn and Jupiter
passed their conjunctions with the Sun, and now it is Mars's
turn, the planet passing beyond the Sun on Sunday, August 10.
While slow-moving Saturn and Jupiter emerge from morning twilight
quickly (Jupiter now rising in early twilight), Mars, moving
rapidly east, following close behind the Sun, takes much longer,
and will not be visible in morning skies until September.
The big event of the fortnight is the occurrence of the famed
August meteors, the
Perseid meteor shower, which will peak the morning of Tuesday,
August 13, though its meteors can be seen up to
a week before and a week after that. We are blessed this year with
a waxing crescent Moon, which will set long before the meteors are
at their best, which is always after midnight. In a dark sky
expect to see one or two per minute, and though the meteors seem to
come out of the constellation Perseus, the best place in the sky to look is always
overhead. The meteors are the debris of Comet Swift-
Tuttle, which has a 120-year period and last visited the
vicinity of the Earth about 10 years ago.
As evening descends, those in middle northern latitudes see a stack
of fine constellations, beginning with the head of Draco a bit to the north of
overhead, and descending to the south through Hercules, Ophiuchus,
and Scorpius. Those farther to the
south might see Ara, the Altar, underneath the Scorpion. To the
east shine the stars of the Summer Triangle, Altair in Aquila, Vega in Lyra, and Deneb in Cygnus. If you wait up to watch the Perseids, you can
catch Orion rising in the east,
reddish Betelgeuse marking his
right shoulder, three bright stars marking both his belt and the
celestial equator, all bringing visions of the winter to come.