Moon, Planets, and Meteors

StarDate: August 12, 2010

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Trees are great. They're beautiful, they raise property values, and they keep you cool -- well, fairly cool -- on a hot summer afternoon. But the sky offers such beautiful sights tonight that you'll want to get away from the trees so they don't block the view.

First up is a grouping of the Moon and three planets. They're low in the west as night falls, so trees or other obstacles along the western horizon will block them from view.

The planets all line up above the Moon, and look like bright stars. The brightest is Venus, the brilliant "evening star." Mars is just to its upper left, with Saturn a little farther to its upper right. Mars looks slightly orange, while Saturn is a pale yellow. The Moon and planets all set by a couple of hours after sunset, so there's not much time to look for them.

Not long after that, the constellation Perseus rises in the northeast. It's the namesake for one of the year's best meteor showers -- the Perseids -- which is at its best tonight. If you can get away from city lights, you might see up to a few dozen "shooting stars" per hour.

You don't have to look toward Perseus to see the meteors, though. They can streak across any part of the sky. But if you trace their paths backwards, they all point toward Perseus, so it doesn't hurt to know where it is. And it doesn't hurt to have a skywatching site without too many trees around it, either -- the better to see the wonders of the night sky.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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