Moon, Spica, and Meteors

StarDate: August 11, 2013

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There’s lots of action in the sky tonight — a beautiful conjunction early on, and a meteor shower a little later. They make it well worth spending some time under the stars.

The conjunction involves the crescent Moon and the star Spica, the leading light of Virgo. Spica is close to the upper left of the Moon as night falls. The Moon will inch closer to the star as they slide down the western sky. And the planet Venus, the “evening star,” adds to the show, well to the lower right of the Moon.

The Moon sets by around 10 or 11 o’clock, depending on your location. And that’s good news for the night’s other big event, the Perseid meteor shower.

The Perseids occur as Earth flies through the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle. As it approaches the Sun, some of its icy surface vaporizes, releasing small grains of comet dust.

When Earth flies through this trail of material, some of the dust grains slam into our atmosphere at high speed. They vaporize instantly, creating streaks of light across the sky.

From the United States, the shower is at its best tonight. The best view comes between midnight and sunrise, as your part of Earth turns directly into the meteor stream. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, so you don’t have to look at a specific region to see them.

To view the Perseids, find a safe skywatching site far from city lights. Then watch the sky for cosmic sparklers — the second half of a beautiful skywatching double feature.

 

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

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

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