August 2004 - The planetary lineup is changing this month.
Jupiter is setting earlier and earlier in the western sky, and will
vanish altogether by mid-month into the glare of the Sun. Venus
is a glorious morning star, rising 15� above the eastern horizon some four
hours before the Sun rises. Saturn is finally reappearing to
join Venus in the early morning hours, and will be 20� above the ENE horizon
by month's end.
Uranus is visible all night long in Aquarius and Neptune is
also visible all night long in Capriconus. Both are low in the sky,
but this is the best time to find them with the help of charts. Most
telescopes can resolve Uranus as a tiny cool blue-green coloured disk if the
seeing allows some magnification, since the planetary diameter is almost 4".
Neptune will be more difficult to resolve, but will appear as a powder blue
coloured steady point of light, since its 2" diameter is at the resolving
limits of most telescopes.
The Perseid meteor shower is predicted to put on the best show in
years starting Wednesday, August 11th, and continuing into the early morning
hours of August 12th. You might want to book time off work for the
12th and plan to stay up all night to watch the show. Predictions call
for up to 90 meteors per hour to be visible, and since the Moon is at a 12%
phase, the sky will be nice and dark. If you want something to do
while you watch the show, record your observations for scientific use by
following the instructions on the
Organization website. They also supply a nice
finder chart and other useful information about the Perseids. Other
Guide Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Aug. 11-12 and
Online 2004 Meteor Showers and Viewing Tips
The Moon turns new on Sunday, August 15th, so find a nice dark observing
site sometime this weekend, and plan to observe the Milky Way. There
will be no better time to leisurely explore the dark summer sky this month.
This would also be an ideal time to take that digital camera with you, mount
it on a tripod, and photograph the Milky Way with a few wide angle
Just set the camera to use the longest exposure time possible, and focus and
lock on infinity if your camera allows. If your digital camera is all automatic, then get that old
manual SLR camera out of the closet, put some
film in it and ensure the batteries are fresh, then take it out in the field
with you. Focus on infinity, open the lens to its fastest setting
(lowest numbered f/stop), set the exposure time to Bulb, and use a cable shutter release to open
the shutter for about one minute. When you get the film developed, be
sure to ask for the lab to scan the images to CD for you so you can share
your astrophotos. Hint: when
taking astrophotos on film, be sure to take a daylight shot at the beginning
and end of the roll so the labs don't get confused with all the dark frames
and cut your negatives mid-frame!
Venus and Saturn are only 4�� apart in the early morning of August 27th.
If you get up early to see this planetary pair, you will also see the starry
pair of Castor and Pollux nearby to the left of the planets. Castor
and Pollux also happen to be separated by 4��. By August 30th, Venus
and Saturn are only 2� apart.