This month, weather conditions permitting, skywatchers will be treated to the Perseid meteor shower, several planet conjunctions, a “blue moon” and a relatively rare lunar occultation of Jupiter (visible for some parts of the globe).
August 7-14: Spica, Saturn and Mars at Dusk
The planets Saturn and Mars and the star Spica are close together in the first half of the month, low above the western horizon at dusk. They will form a triangle on the 7th an hour after sunset. Saturn will be the top of the triangle, while Mars will be on the lower right corner. Each side of the triangle is about 5 degrees. On the 14th, they will form an almost straight line: Saturn topmost with Mars lying between Saturn and Spica.
August 12: Occultation of Jupiter by the Moon
For Philippine observers, the waning crescent Moon will pass in front of Jupiter and its moons during a relatively rare event called occultation on the morning of August 12. In astronomy, an occultation occurs when one object is hidden by another larger object that passes between it and the observer. Prospects and timings for the event vary with location.
The event takes place while Jupiter and the Moon are low in the sky during the wee hours of the morning.
|2012 Aug 12 02:43||Occultation disappearance of Jupiter (Mag -2.2)|
|2012 Aug 12 03:16||Occultation reappearance of Io (Mag 5.5)|
|2012 Aug 12 03:17||Occultation reappearance of Jupiter (Mag -2.2)|
|2012 Aug 12 03:18||Occultation reappearance of Europa (Mag 5.7)|
|2012 Aug 12 03:20||Occultation reappearance of Callisto (Mag 6.1)|
|2012 Aug 12 03:32||Occultation reappearance of Ganymede (Mag 5.0)|
August 11, 12: Perseid Meteor Shower
The Perseids is one of the best annual meteor showers.
The best time to watch for Perseids is between midnight and dawn. This is when the shower’s radiant located between the constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus, lies highest in the northeast sky.
By the 12th, the moon will only be 25% illuminated and not nearly as intense as when near its full phase. This will allow fainter meteors to be seen as long as the moon lies outside your field of view.
Tip: Find a safe dark location with clear skies in the early morning hours in order to see the shower. This year, the shower peaks on a weekend so it’s more convenient to stay up late.
August 14: A line of planets along with a thin, waning, crescent Moon before dawn
Before dawn on the morning of the 14th August the planets Mercury, Venus and Jupiter and the Moon will line up in the eastern sky. Look for A very thin crescent Moon to the upper right of Mercury an hour before sunrise in the northeast. Venus is to the upper right of the Moon, and a few degrees above them is Jupiter.
August 22: Waxing Crescent Moon joins Saturn, Mars and Spica
On the evening of the 22nd, a waxing crescent Moon, Mars, and Saturn will all lie within a circle just 6° in diameter.
August 31: Blue Moon (second full moon of August)
On the 31st, we will be able to witness a Blue Moon, the term given to the second full Moon in a calendar month. But don’t expect it to be blue — the term has nothing to do with the color of the moon. [Origin of the term blue moon]
Situated well above the 88% illuminated waxing gibbous moon tonight were two bright objects — one is the planet Mars and the other one is the star Regulus in the constellation Leo.
These three formed a nice cosmic triangle in the night sky just like what is shown above. (Please take note that the image was a composite.)
Reddish Mars has been in Leo close to the star Regulus for the past few weeks, and the two will remain companions all April. During May and June, Mars will drift away from Regulus, and will head toward the constellation Virgo where Saturn is currently residing.
Global Astronomy Month 2012 (www.gam-awb.org) is merely a month away. Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) has organized three exciting events in March to do the warm-ups!
Spread the word and join in.
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“Hello Red Planet”
3-5 March 2012
Mars will come into Opposition on March 3, 2012 in the constellation Leo with its face fully illuminated by the Sun and two days later, on March 5, 2012, the planet will have its closest approach to Earth during this apparition: 100.78 million km (0.6737 AU)—the best time to say “Hello” to the Red Planet.
“Conjunction of Glory”
13 – 15 March 2012
Venus and Jupiter, the two brightest planets in the sky, will be within 3 degrees of each other in the evening sky of 15 March 2012 at 10:37:46 UTC. This will be quite a spectacle, as both planets are very bright—and this will be a fantastic visual and photographic opportunity, as it’s not often that you get the brightest planets in our Solar System so close together.
The next Venus-Jupiter conjunction after this one falls on May 28, 2013.
“March Equinox 2012″
20 March 2012
The March equinox occurs at 05:14 UTC, Tuesday 20 March. The Sun will shine directly down on the Earth’s equator and there will be nearly equal amounts of day and night throughout the world. This is also the first day of spring (Vernal Equinox) in the northern hemisphere and the first day of fall (Autumnal Equinox) in the southern hemisphere.
Wherever you are on 20 March, 2012, celebrate your season in the cycle of life with Astronomers Without Borders. Enjoy your own unique Equinox this year—and why not tell others about the experience?
To the stars!
More about GAM 2012:
Mars in the eastern sky at 9:51 pm | Quezon City, Philippines
We were sitting on one of those weird benches surrounding the trees in the open-air space of UP-Ayala Technohub after having a rewarding dinner when I noticed a red-orange star in the eastern sky infront of us. My brain told me that, based on its brightness and location it had to be Mars. It was hardly recognizable at first because the waxing gibbous moon was shining close to it. Moreover, we were situated in a very light-polluted area that my eyes were struggling to see those faint celestial objects near the horizon.
The red planet is back in the eastern sky at nightfall on these evenings. It is now in fact, one of the brightest “stars” (around -0.9 mag) in the night sky. It is growing even brighter and more prominent, especially towards the end of the month as it comes close to opposition to the Sun and its nearest pass to Earth.
Moon, Leo and Mars
Mars started to retrograde (move westward) toward the star Regulus in the constellation Leo last January 24. That happens whenever Earth is about to pass between the sun and Mars, which will happen on March 3, 2012. Mars has been brightening ever since retrograde motion began.
By the end of February, Mars will rise only 20 minutes after the Sun sets, so it will be easily seen by the time the sky darkens and will shine all-night long. By then Mars will have brightened to magnitude -1.2, nearly as bright as Sirius.
As I prepared to observe the Orionid Meteor Shower last October 22, a nice celestial pairing of the waning crescent Moon (22% full) and the tiny planet Mars greeted my view. These two were roughly 8 degrees apart during this conjunction and were located just slightly above “the Sickle” in Leo. Unfortunately, the glow from the light-polluted city made the 1.2 magnitude Mars (on the upper left of the image) difficult to notice with the naked eye.
Mars appears to be like a plain bright red star right now that rises in the east during the wee hours after midnight. In the months ahead, Mars will brighten and will also rise earlier at night. By December 2011, this planet will climb over the eastern horizon before midnight. In January 2012, it’ll be up by mid-evening, and even sooner on February 2012 evenings.
Mars will come closest to Earth in March 2012. It will be out from dusk till dawn, shining about nine times more brightly than it does at present. Even so, Mars won’t be nearly as bright as the planets Venus or Jupiter.
The month of May will show up the finest planetary conjunctions of the year. Naked-eye planets line-up in the eastern horizon before sunrise. On May 1, 9, 13, and 30 at 5:00 AM, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus and Neptune will be found lining-up above the eastern horizon as shown in Figures 2, 3, 4, and 5 respectively. Uranus and Neptune will be needing a star map and a binocular or a modest-sized telescope for its proper viewing. The planets will lie among the background stars of the constellation Pisces, the Fish, except for Neptune, which will be found at the constellation of Aquarius, the Water-Bearer.
Saturn will be visible in the evening sky throughout the month. The Ringed planet will be located among the background stars of the constellation Virgo, the Virgin.
|1||Mars Jupiter at minimum separation||dawn|
|2||Jupiter 6° south of the Moon||03:00 AM|
|3||New Moon||04:50 PM|
|5||The 3% thin crescent Moon will lie in between the star groups Hyades and Pleiades in the constellation Taurus in the west.||dusk|
|7||Mercury at greatest western elongation||dawn|
|7||Eta Aquarids : Active from Apr 19 to May 28 — ZHR 70|
|8||Venus Mercury at minimum separation||dawn|
|11||First Quarter Moon||04:35 AM|
|11||Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter Conjunction – The three planets will form a 2-degree long vertical line in the early morning sky. The planet Mars will also be visible nearby. Look to the east near sunrise.||dawn|
|11||Mercury Jupiter at minimum separation||dawn|
|12||Venus Jupiter at minimum separation||dawn|
|14||Saturn 8° north of the Moon||11:00 PM|
|17||Full Moon (called Full Flower Moon)||07:10 PM|
|18-26||Mercury Venus Mars conjunction||dawn|
|18||Mercury Venus at minimum separation||dawn|
|22||Jupiter 8° below the Moon||dawn|
|25||Last Quarter Moon||02:50PM|
|31||Mars 4° South of the Moon||dawn|
- PAGASA Astronomical Diary
- Philippine Celestial Events for 2011 by PAS
- 2011 Astronomy Calendar – SeaSky.org
Tonight presents the expected peak of the annual Lyrid meteor shower, from late night Friday (April 22) until dawn Saturday (April 23). Look for meteors radiating from the constellation of Lyra after midnight.
Lyrid meteors are usually around magnitude +2, which is bright enough to be visible from most cities, but you’ll see more and enjoy them more if you leave the city for a dark place where the stars shine brighter. They often produce luminous trains of dust that can be observed for several seconds. Some Lyrids will be brighter, though, and the occassional “fireball” can cast shadows for a split second and leave behind glowing, smoky debris trails that last for minutes. Lyrid meteors disintegrate after hitting our atmosphere at a moderate speed of 29.8 miles per second.
In observing these meteors, the hour before dawn is usually best, except that a bright waning gibbous moon will be lighting the sky hiding most of the fainter meteors in its glare. This year, it is more favorable to watch late at night, during the dark hour before moonrise.
Tweet your data!
You can also share your data by Tweeting your postcode, your country (click here to find your country code) and, optionally, the meteor count along with the hashtag; #MeteorWatch (you are welcome to use GAM hastags as well – #GAM2011 #LyridsWatch)
The meteor data will appear in a map at MeteorWatch.org
While the best meteor-watching will be late night through daybreak, it’s well worth staying outside just before sunrise for a beautiful planetary alignment will be joining the Lyrids.
Venus is so bright in the eastern sky you can’t miss it, and below it Mercury, Mars and Jupiter could be found hanging a few degrees away from each other. If you have hazy skies or live in an urban area, you may need binoculars to see Mars and Jupiter.
This planetary grouping is visible from April 23 to May 30.
Enjoy the show!
Here is another rare planetary grouping that is hard to miss!
As soon as I came across this website shared by Daniel Fischer and read about the proximity of Venus and Jupiter to each other on May 2011, I immediately ran my Stellarium software and simulated planetary positions throughout that month.
I got excited when I saw the nice planetary grouping of Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Mercury (you can add Uranus and Neptune to your count if you have binoculars or a small telescope) with the thin waning crescent Moon during the predawn hours of May 1 and 2.
All of these celestial objects will lie just within the constellation Pisces, separated by only a few degrees from each other. This is a good opportunity to spot all these planets close together during one occasion.
In order to observe this, you must have a clear eastern horizon because they will appear very low in the sky. Also, be sure to bring a pair of binoculars to help you see these objects better and wake up early to avoid the glare of the sun.
Venus is, as always, the brightest and most visible of the planets, and it can be your guide to spotting the others. About half way between Venus and the rising sun is Jupiter, the second brightest planet.
Mars will be a tiny speck just above Jupiter, and Mercury another tiny speck about half way between Jupiter and Venus. Uranus is slightly more than one binocular field above and to the right of Venus, and Neptune is much farther to the right, about 40 degrees away in Aquarius.
The planetary grouping is visible from April 23 to May 30.
Astrologers have always been fascinated by planetary alignments, and the doomsayers of 2012 have been prophesying a mystical alignment on Dec. 21, 2012. They view planetary alignments as foretellers of disasters. Modern amateur astronomers look forward to them as nothing more than grand photo ops. In fact, the modern tools of astronomers, such as planetarium softwares, show otherwise: absolutely no alignment at any time in 2012.
For Philippine skygazers, here is another celestial grouping before the month of August ends.
* * *
Venus and Mars will team up with the star Spica (the brightest star of the constellation Virgo) to stage this year’s closest celestial trio – three heavenly bodies fitting within a circle smaller than 5 degrees in diameter. A typical binocular field covers about 5 degrees of sky, and you might catch all three snuggling within a single binocular field in the early evening from end of August until early September.
Unfortunately for the northern hemisphere, the threesome sets at very early evening. Dazzling Venus is easy to see, but Mars and Spica tantalize at the threshold of visibility. The best viewing window opens up from around 45 to 75 minutes after sunset. Have binoculars handy!
After the trio sets in the west, look for the blazing planet Jupiter to rise in the east. After rising, this wonderfully brilliant world will be out all night long!
For Philippine sky gazers, the planets Venus and Neptune will make their greatest appearance for this year on the evening of August 20
The brightest planet in the solar system, Venus will appear especially prominent because it will climb to its highest point in the evening sky upon reaching its greatest elongation. It will lie 47° from the Sun, its maximum distance for this appearance.
Also on this night, the planet Mars will lie just 2° above Venus. (That’s approximately the width of one finger when held at arm’s length.) Using binoculars will help bring it to view because it glows less than 1 percent as Venus. The planet Saturn lurks approximately 10° to Venus’ right and the star Spica in the constellation Virgo sits 10° to Venus’ left. Both shine a little brighter than Mars but fall far short of dazzling Venus.
Although naked eyes and binoculars offer the best views of the evening scene, anyone with a small telescope will get a thrill from targeting Venus. At greatest elongation, Venus looks like a miniature version of a First Quarter Moon, with one half in sunlight and the other in darkness.
On the other hand, the planet Neptune will be in opposition (opposite the sun in the sky and closest to Earth) and will be highest in the sky at local midnight. This opposition is special because Neptune will be returning close to the spot where it was discovered in 1846, marking its first complete trip around the sun since its discovery.
To find Neptune, look for the large but faint triangle of Capricornus, to the left of Sagittarius and the Milky Way around 1 a.m. this week. The two stars at the left end of the triangle point the way to Neptune, just a little bit short of and above the star Iota in the neighboring constellation Aquarius.
In a small telescope or even binoculars, Neptune will look just like a star; what gives it away is its distinctive blue-green color.
Happy planet hopping!
Wondering what to do on this Friday night? Dance with the meteors and the planets.
The University of the Philippines Astronomical Society (UP Astrosoc) invites everyone to its public observation of the spectacular Perseid Meteor Shower and planetary grouping of Mars, Venus, Saturn and Mercury on August 13th (Friday) from 6pm to 6am of the following day at the PAGASA Observatory Sun Deck in the University of the Philippines Campus, Diliman.
Likewise, the UP-Los Banos Astronomical Society (UPLB Astrosoc) will hold an Astronomy Camp entitled “Astra La Vista: The First Encounter” also on the 13th at D.L. Umali Hall in UP Los Banos, Laguna. Aside from observing the Perseids and the planetary grouping, this event will be its launching activity as well.
So don’t forget to mark your calendars on this date, list down your wishes and watch these events from your local areas.
Let’s pray for clear skies
A lot of Filipino amateur astronomers including me are excited for this month’s sky display.
For Philippine observers, the annual Perseids Meteor Shower which often shows 50 meteors per hour will be observed with its peak on the late night of August 12-13. The Perseids appear to radiate out from the constellation Perseus, which is located in the eastern horizon during August.
2010 is a great year for the Perseids. This year, the slender waxing crescent moon will set at early evening, leaving a dark sky for this year’s Perseid show.
The Perseids tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into midnight, and typically produce the most meteors in the wee hours before dawn. These meteors are often bright and frequently leave persistent trains. The Perseid Meteor Shower is famous for its Earthgrazers –meteors that approach from the horizon and skim the atmosphere overhead like a stone skipping the surface of a pond. Earthgrazers are long, slow and colorful; they are among the most beautiful of meteors.
The source of the shower is Comet Swift-Tuttle. Although the comet is nowhere near Earth, the comet’s tail does intersect Earth’s orbit. We glide through it every year in August. Tiny bits of comet dust hit Earth’s atmosphere traveling 132,000 mph. At that speed, even a smidgen of dust makes a vivid streak of light–a meteor–when it disintegrates.
Friday the 13th will never be unlucky for sky observers on this night. Those who plan to watch the Perseids will also have the chance to see a beautiful planetary grouping before the radiant rise in the East.
Coincidentally, on August 13 at around 7pm the crescent Moon will join the groupings of Mars, Venus, Saturn and Mercury in the western horizon.
Happy observing and Clear Skies to all!
“On August 27th … Mars will look as large as the full moon.”
“NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN.”
It’s August once again and so it marks the annual return of the Mars Hoax. The Mars Hoax Season reaches its height in August when emails are flying around the internet claiming Mars will be as big as the full Moon.
Well, the truth is, Mars can never appear as large as a full moon as seen from Earth.
I first received a forwarded email about this during 2003 or 2005 and almost every year, I see a copy of the same message in my inbox, with its contents being recycled and recirculated.
According to some analysis done by researchers, the email began circulating since 2003. The original message somewhat looks like the one below:
“The Red Planet is about to be spectacular! This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter’s gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.
The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles (55,763,108 km) of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.
By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m. That’s pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month. Share this with your children and grandchildren. NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN.”
Well, some of the things mentioned here are true. During 2003, when this hoax started, Mars really did come within 35 million miles of Earth, the closest in recorded history. That really was an unusually close approach and Mars appeared much brighter than usual. The problem is that the original article had a line about when viewed through a telescope at 75x (75 times actual size) Mars would appear the same size as the full Moon. In other words, Mars to the unaided eye, would be 1/75 as large as the full Moon (not nearly as impressive).It will look like a bright red star, a pinprick of light, certainly not as wide as the full Moon.
If Mars did come close enough to rival the Moon, its gravity would alter Earth’s orbit and raise terrible tides.
Mars has a very elliptical orbit so sometimes we have closer approaches than others. The most recent opposition (closest approach) occurred on January 29th, 2010 and Mars was about 99 million kilometers (about 60 million miles) away. However, Mars was not as bright at the 2010 opposition as it can be. Depending on the opposition, Mars can be as close as 35 million miles from Earth just like the case in 2003, when Mars came minutely closer to Earth than it had been in almost 60,000 years. These very close martian oppositions happen every 15 or 17 years. They happen when Earth passes between the sun and Mars within a few weeks of Mars’ perihelion (the point in its orbit when it is closest to the sun).
Still, Mars is fascinating to look at. This month, Mars can be spotted in the western sky after sunset with the other naked eye planets Saturn, Venus and Mercury.
For further reading, the following articles may be useful:
As a piece of advice, when you receive some emails you really feel compelled to forward, read again, google it and confirm its authenticity before forwarding them
(Moon and Mars) Mars NASA/STSci; Moon David Le Conte. Graphic: David Le Conte.