The Perseid meteor shower should put on a splendid display this year since there will be no moon to interfere. The height of the shower is the evenings of Aug. 11 and 12.
The Perseid shower is the result of the Earth passing into the fine debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle, last seen in 1862. The meteors are particularly fast and bright since the debris is moving toward us. Frequently they will also leave smoke trails that can be followed with binoculars.
I would observe for at least 30 minutes and choose a location away from bright city lights. The darker the sky, the more meteors you may see. Under dark skies I have seen between 60 and 100 per hour. Look to the northeast or the darkest part of your sky. A lawn chair, radio, snacks and a low horizon will make for an enjoyable night.
As the sky darkens, look to the south-southeast to find Jupiter. It is easily the brightest "star" in the evening sky and still near the stars of Sagittarius. Later in the evening it will be toward the south. Now is an excellent time to see Jupiter with or without a telescope. At the end of August, Jupiter and the star cluster M 22 are in the same field of view with binoculars or a wide-field telescope. Scan this region to see how many other star clusters you can find.
Mercury can be found low in the western sky at dusk. Look for it to the right crescent moon on Aug. 16. This innermost planet takes 88 days to orbit the sun and never strays far from the sun's glare.
Saturn rises in the east several hours after sunset. The rings are well situated for viewing with telescopes in the early morning hours.
Venus will rise in the east, among the stars of Gemini, about three hours before sunset. Each day it will rise a little higher in the sky until it reaches its greatest angular distance (elongation) of 46 degrees from the sun on the 20th. Reddish Mars is to the lower left of Venus and is the much dimmer of the two.
The full moon of August is called the Green Corn or Grain Moon. Look for the crescent moon before dawn to form a straight line with Venus and Mars on Aug. 8, below Venus on Aug. 10 and finally below Mars on Aug. 11. Saturn will be to the left of the moon the morning of the third and again near the moon on the 29th and 30th.
August sky calendar
THURSDAY _ Mercury is one-half degree north of Regulus in the eastern morning sky, 45 minutes before sunrise.
SATURDAY _ The moon is near Saturn in the morning.
AUG. 6 _ The last quarter moon.
AUG. 8 _ At dawn the red giant star Aldebaran is to the upper right of the crescent moon.
AUG. 10 _ At dawn brilliant Venus is above the crescent moon.
AUG. 11-12 _ Perseid meteor shower is at maximum. Look after midnight for the best results.
AUG. 12 _ The moon is at apogee (greatest distance) of 252,570 miles.
AUG. 14 _ New moon.
AUG. 16 _ At dusk the thin crescent moon is to the left of Mercury near the horizon.
AUG. 18 At dusk, Spica is to the left of the crescent moon.
AUG. 19 _ Venus is at greatest angular distance (elongation) from the sun.
AUG. 21 _ Mercury is now at greatest elongation. First quarter moon.
AUG. 24 _ The moon is near Jupiter in the evening.
AUG. 27 _ The moon is at perigee (nearest) of 222,930 miles.
AUG. 28 _ Full moon.
AUG. 30 _ The moon is near Saturn.
At the planetariums
The complex at the Bishop Planetarium in Bradenton will be closed the first week in September. It will reopen on Sept. 10. The children's program is "Larry Cat in Space" with a museum program on bugs afterward on Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m.
The adult show "Firefall" is on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m., with an observatory program afterward. You may hop aboard a ray of light to travel the solar system on "Quick as a Flash" at 1 and 4 p.m. daily. Also, see the sun from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday if the skies are clear.
MOSIMAX in Tampa continues with "Antarctica" and its special exhibit. Also showing is "Search from the Great Sharks," which is replaced by "Tropical Rainforests" on the 30th.
The adult planetarium show is "Just Imagine" and the family show is "Planet Patrol" on our solar system. There is still free telescope viewing every clear Saturday night in the parking lot.
The Funshop on from 9-11 p.m. Aug. 7 is "Telescope Astronomy" for the new amateur stargazer. You can bring your own telescopes for instructions. On Aug. 14 there is "Behind the Planetarium" at 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Both are $20 for non-members.
TimesLine keeps you in touch daily with a short astronomy feature. Use your push-button phone to call the number assigned to your area (found on today's TV page) and enter category code number 7827 (STAR).
Daryl L. Schrader is an astronomy and mathematics instructor at St. Petersburg Junior College and teaches astronomy at the University of South Florida.