(Saturday moonrise by Christopher Frankovich)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ever wish for advance alert of an upcoming meteor shower/eclipse/etc. – and/or wonder “What’s that bright ‘star’ up there?” This should help. It’s our periodic feature by West Seattle’s own Solar System Ambassador Alice Enevoldsen, famed for her solstice/equinox sunset watches, among other things.
By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
It is time for the Perseid Meteor Shower… and another Supermoon! Let’s get started.
Hey, what’s that?
Mars, Spica, and Saturn — Last time I said you’d notice a pair of stars just after sunset, one of which was Mars (a planet, not a star) and the other, Spica. Tonight as you look up, Mars will have moved off to the South a bit and is now about halfway between Saturn and Spica. Toward the end of the month Mars will be even closer to Saturn, making a striking pairing of planets.
Morning people? Venus is a brilliant morning “star” this month, rising shortly before the Sun in the East. Wow. I saw it this morning for the first time this season (I am NOT a morning person. Just ask my Mom) and I thought it was an airplane it was so bright.
You may also have seen a few awe-inspiring shooting stars in the early evening or early morning. These are the earlybirds of the Perseid meteor shower, called earth grazers because of how they glance through our atmosphere making a long, bright trail.
The Perseid Meteor Shower is one of the brightest and most fun meteor showers to view, because it is on a comfortable summer night and is traditionally a fairly dense shower with lots of shooting stars (meteors).
Meteors will be visible in all parts of the sky, though the radiant is in the constellation Perseus, so they’ll seem to be coming from (radiating out of) Perseus in the low Northeastern sky. So, find yourself a nice open sky where you can see the whole sky, but especially that is clear toward the North, lie down on the ground an settle in to watch for shooting stars after midnight: you want to see as much sky as possible at once. The earthgrazers may additionally be more visible in the late evening and early morning.
I recommend Alki Beach and Hamilton Viewpoint (at the north end of California) for the best open-sky Northern view in West Seattle (though be polite if you’re asked to leave by the police officers or parks staff: Green Lake Park and most boat ramps are the only 24-hour parks within Seattle City Limits). If you can travel, get east of the city: there is a day-use boat ramp on Little Kachess Lake I like to recommend, next to Kachess Lake Campground. Little Kachess Lake is just past Snoqualmie Pass.
Unfortunately, the peak (night of August 12th) of the Perseids overlaps with a full moon this year (August 10th). The extra light in the sky from the Moon (a Supermoon as well) will wash out the dimmer meteors, so many astronomers are recommending trying to view the Perseid pre-and post- meteors, the “earth grazers” instead of the peak itself this year.
To see those you’ll be watching the evening and morning skies, in the days (up to weeks) before and after the peak night.
If the Moon seems particularly orange or red as it rises over the Cascades, that’s due to the smoke from the fires in Eastern Washington.
Sunday night, August 10th — Supermoon, closest of five super moons in 2014
Monday night, August 11th — Perseid Meteor Shower pre-peak
Tuesday night, August 12th — Perseid Meteor Shower’s true peak. You’ll be watching the Northeast between midnight and 3 am.
August 17th — Autumn Equinox in Mars’s Northern Hemisphere! (Seasons are approximately twice as long on Mars)
August 30th, 11 am — Preschool/Toddler Astronomy Storytime at Westwood Barnes & Noble by yours truly
September 8th — ANOTHER Supermoon. This will be the 5th and final Supermoon of 2014. (if you see “September 9th” reported elsewhere, that’s because it happens at 1:30 am UTC. I translate from UTC to Pacific Time for you here.)
Monday, September 22nd, 6:30 pm — Fall Equinox (on Earth!) Sunset Watch with me at Solstice Park with special Preschool activities! Bring your kids!
Did I miss something? Please add it in the comments!
August 10, Full Moon: The full moon rises around sunset, and sets around sunrise.
August 17, Last Quarter: the week around the last quarter moon, it is visible in the early morning sky.August 25, New Moon: the day of the new moon you won’t see the Moon at all, but a few days before or after you’ll see a tiny sliver of a crescent Moon as the Sun rises or sets.
September 2, First Quarter: The first quarter moon is ideal for late afternoon and early evening observation.
Stellarium: Free planetarium software for your home computer. Bring up the sky for anywhere in the world – any time and date in history, or the future.
Clear Sky Chart: The astronomer’s forecast for the next couple days. Cloud cover, darkness, and “seeing” which is how nice it is to view the stars, all on one handy chart.
USNO: Dates and times of astronomical happenings.
Who is Alice?
Alice is many things and volunteers for a few different notable organizations, but the suggestions and opinions put forth in this article are her own and no one else’s. You can find more about astronomy at alicesastroinfo.com.