A visual workout, and then a shower

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My original intent was to talk about the "celestial superhighway," however, that will need to be put off until later, because there are a couple of other things I would like to present that are happening this week and next.

The first is another one of those pesky "Super Moons" that seem to be happening all too frequently. We had one in June and July, now one in August and there will be another one in September.

First, shall we dispense with this whole idea of a "Super Moon." It really isn't anything near super in any way, nor will it be perceptibly any larger than a normal full moon--which looks large enough anyway.

The best name for it is "Perigee Moon." Perigee is when the moon is at the closest point in its orbit to Earth for the month. In fact this particular, perigee moon will be the closest for all of 2014.

But, there is another event that adds to the uniqueness of this perigee moon and that is, it will be full very near the time is it at its closest. In fact, the two events will be only 26 minutes apart.

Now, just because it is close does not mean it will look any larger. At the most, only 13 to 14 percent larger, but that will not be visually noticeable.

If you remember our discussion from last week about measuring the width of the full moon; go outside close to the time of moon rise (at about 8:00 pm MDT on August 10) and hold your little finger extended at arms length and cover the moon. It will cover it exactly.

Go out a few hours later and do it again, they will appear to be the same size -- covered by your little finger.

The other event is one that almost all astronomers tend to drool over, the Perseid Meteor Shower. It is one of the premier meteor showers of the year and not one to be missed.

Even though the peak of the shower is the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 12, into the early morning hours of Wednesday, August 13, it is possible to see some pre-Perseid meteors now.

Go to your favorite dark-sky place (a very dark sky will be needed to observe the Perseids) and look anywhere from the northeast to overhead. The constellation Perseus--the point of origin for the shower--clears the horizon at about midnight, so that is the best time to start looking.

As with most things astronomical, there is sometimes a hitch in the proceedings, and this time there is a big one. The big, just-passed full moon also rises, in this case just before 9 p.m. MDT, and will wipe out any hope for viewing the smaller streaks.

But, as with bad news, there is sometimes good news, and in this case it is that the Perseid shower is noted for very bright fireballs, brighter exploding meteors which will overcome the moonlight.

So find your spot, bring a reclining chair--to prevent getting a crick in the neck--bring a jacket or blanket because even though it is still summer it can get cold in the wee hours of the morning. Bring some munchies, your favorite soft drink but most importantly, bring some friends.

A meteor shower is always enjoyed more when observing in groups.

SKYWATCH: Full, perigee moon, Sunday, Aug. 10. Moon close to Neptune, Monday, August 11, and close to Uranus on Wednesday, Aug. 13. Mark your calendar, Monday, Aug. 18, a super-close meeting in the pre-dawn sky of Jupiter, Venus, and the moon.

NEXT WEEK: More astronomical blathering.

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