Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, August 10, 2001.

The next Skylights will appear Sunday, August 19. As the week begins, the Moon is nearly in its third quarter, the phase passed the night of Saturday, the 11th. During the remainder of the week it will wane in the crescent phase until Saturday the 18th, when it will pass new. Only three hours after new, the Moon passes perigee, the coincidence causing near-maximum ocean tides. The last glimpse of the crescent will be in twilight the morning of Friday, the 17th.

As the crescent wanes, it will appear to the west of Saturn (still in Taurus to the east of the Hyades) the morning of Monday the 13th, and to the east of the ringed planet the following morning. The morning of Wednesday the 15th, the Moon will appear up and to the right of Jupiter (the planet in western Gemini). During the day, around 3 PM Central Time, the Moon will actually occult (pass over) Jupiter, the event visible through a telescope. (Saturn's occultation on the 13th is visible only in Africa and India). The most striking pairing will occur the morning of Thursday the 16th, when Moon will appear nearly to brush brilliant Venus, the event well worth getting up at dawn to see. While less dramatic, the evening still holds bright Mars, the planet still just a bit to the east of Antares in Scorpius. Finally, distant Uranus, now in retrograde in eastern Capricornus, passes opposition to the Sun on Wednesday, the 15th.

The week, however, as always this time of year belongs to the famed Perseid meteor shower, which will be at maximum the morning of Sunday the 12th. Meteors are caused by small rocks from space that heat and streak through the Earth's upper atmosphere. The Perseid shower typically sends 50 to 100 meteors per hour (the show best seen well after midnight). Unfortunately, the third quarter Moon will light the sky this year, taking out the fainter meteors. Nevertheless, the brighter ones will shine through. The meteors are the stony debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, which on its 130 year orbit last passed by the Earth in 1992. The direction of the meteoroid stream coupled with the direction of the Earth makes the meteors seem to come from the constellation Perseus. The best place to look, however, is straight up.

When observed at the same time of night, the stars slip slowly past us by a degree each successive day as the Earth orbits the Sun. To the south at 9 PM Daylight Time find the tail of Scorpius, to the east the figure that makes Sagittarius. Above Sagittarius is a bright patch of Milky Way coupled to modern constellation Scutum, the Shield. Below Sagittarius are a few stars that make the modern constellation Telescopium, the Telescope, whose stars appear overhead to those near 50 degrees south latitude. To the far north, the head of Draco, the Dragon, is high in the sky, and near- overhead for those near latitude 50 degrees north.
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