How about a dip into the ol' mailbag this week. I guess you can call the e-mail in-box a mailbag.
This week there are two communications I would like to share. The first comes from someone who was out camping last week and was wondering about the three bright objects that formed a triangle in the southwestern sky about an hour after sunset.
The writer thought one of them could be a planet.
Well, he was half right, one of them was a planet, but so was another one of the trio.
The three objects were the planets Saturn (on top of the triangle) and Mars to the right and the bright star Spica on the bottom.
As of tonight (Wednesday) the position of Mars has changed to the other side of the triangle. Also tonight there will be a nice six-day old moon off to the left of the three.
Look in the southwest about an hour after local sunset.
The other question received concerned the sources for all the information I share each week.
Well, there are numerous sources I use to research this column.
The two primary sources are "Astronomy" magazine and a software planetarium program for the computer called "Starry Night."
Starry Night shows the night sky as it will look at any given time, place, or date. Using it I can show what the sky will look like and what will be where and when it will be there.
I can follow the path of the planets and moon from night to night seeing where each will be and what they will be near.
Astronomy magazine also gives information concerning upcoming events in the night sky.
Another source is "Star Date" magazine from the University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Planetarium. So is "Sky Watch" magazine published by "Sky and Telescope." All can be accessed on-line.
I subscribe to a monthly publication from the Abrams Planetarium at the University of Michigan. They publish a monthly sky calendar with lots of very useful information.
Not to mention numerous on-line locations providing astronomical information. If you would like a list, send a request to: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will forward you some of the other sources I use.
SKY WATCH: First quarter moon, Friday, Aug. 24. Also on Friday the outer gas giant planet Neptune will be at opposition, meaning it is opposite the sun in the sky and will be visible all night. Neptune is too dim to be seen without some sort of magnification help like binoculars or a telescope. Locate the boat-shaped constellation Capricornus just to the right of Sagittarius then locate the star on the extreme left end of the boat. Neptune is about 10 degrees further to the right. That is about two field-of-view widths. Neptune will be a small, blue-green dot. For something even further out, how about the planet Pluto -- Pluto is still a planet as far as I am concerned. You won't be able to see it, but at least I can tell where it is. On Sunday evening, Aug. 26, an almost-full moon will be just above the lid of the teapot-shaped constellation Sagittarius. Use binoculars to find M-25, a nice open star cluster one degree to the upper right of the moon. Pluto will be less than one-half a degree below and slightly right of the star cluster. In fact, all three will be in the same binocular field of view, but again, you won't see Pluto, it is way too dim. But, at least you will know where it is.
NEXT WEEK: More astronomical blathering.