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Astronomy

No umbrellas needed for the Perseid shower

By DARYL L. SCHRADER
Published July 30, 2005


The Earth will pass through the debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle, giving us the yearly Perseid meteor shower on the mornings of Aug. 12 and 13. The latter will probably offer the better show. As this debris burns up in the upper atmosphere, we will see streaks of light called meteors. Some of the brighter meteors will leave smoke trails. The debris is so fine, however, that none of it will strike Earth's surface.

The best time to observe most meteor showers is after midnight, and we are fortunate that the moon's brightness will not pose a problem. Go as far away from city lights as you can, and you will see more than 60 meteors an hour that appear to radiate from the northeast. However, the meteors can be seen anywhere in the sky. The number of meteors visible drops significantly if you stay near city lights. Expect over 10 meteors an hour to be brighter than the brightest stars.

You should observe for at least 20 minutes to size up what is happening. A quick glance will usually be disappointing.

At the start of August, look to the west-southwest at dusk to find Jupiter with Venus to its lower right. Jupiter will move closer to the more brilliant Venus until they are very close together low in the west-southwest by the end of the month in a spectacular pairing. The bright star to the left of Jupiter all month long is Spica. The crescent moon is a beautiful sight near Jupiter on Aug. 9.

Mars will get brighter during the month and is best seen high in the south before dawn.

Saturn and Mercury also pair up this month. Look for them near the east-northeast horizon before dawn on Aug. 18. The more brilliant Saturn will then move higher, to the upper right of Mercury. Notice that Saturn will be to the lower right of the crescent moon before sunrise on Aug. 31.

At the planetariums

Science Center of Pinellas County, 7701 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg: The Science Center is offering planetarium shows on Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. "Summer Colors" is the current show. A laser light show is Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

Learn how to build a telescope at the ongoing classes on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. in the optical laboratory in the annex building behind the main building. The St. Petersburg Astronomy Club meets at the Science Center at 8 p.m. Aug. 26. Visit the club's Web site at www.tampabayastronomy.com For more information, call (727) 384-0027 or visit www.sciencecenterofpinellas.com

St. Petersburg College (Fifth Avenue and 69th Street N, St. Petersburg): The college planetarium at the St. Petersburg campus will reopen Friday, Aug. 26. Free planetarium shows will continue on Friday nights at 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. When the skies are clear, telescopes will be available after the shows.

Call (727) 341-4320 for more details.

Gulfport: At dusk, telescopes will be set up for astronomical viewing Aug. 5 and 20 on the corner of Beach Boulevard and 31st Avenue S, but only if the skies are clear.

St. Pete Beach: Telescopes will be set up for viewing at dusk Aug. 6 on Corey Avenue in front of the Beach Memorial Funeral Home.

Bishop Planetarium 201 10th St. W, Bradenton: The Bradenton planetarium has reopened. The adult planetarium show is "Passport to the Universe," and the children's show is "The Secret of the Cardboard Rocket." Also offered is the animated digital alternate music selection "Sonic Vision." For more information, call (941) 746-4131 or visit www.southfloridamuseum.org

Museum of Science and Industry 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa: The planetarium is showing "Ring World," about the planet Saturn. The IMAX Dome Theater presents Pulse: A STOMP Odyssey and Mystery of the Nile. Call (813) 987-6100 or visit www.mosi.org for more events.

Sky calendar

MONDAY: Notice all month that the bright star Spica is to the left of Jupiter in the west-southwest.

THURSDAY: New moon. The moon is at apogee (greatest distance) of 252,669 miles.

FRIDAY: Telescopes set up at Gulfport this evening.

AUG. 6: Telescopes set up at St. Pete Beach this evening.

AUG. 7: Venus to the left of a very thin crescent moon low in the west at dusk.

AUG. 8: Neptune is at opposition (opposite the direction of the sun).

AUG. 9: Look to the west-southwest to find Jupiter to the upper left of the crescent moon at dusk.

AUG. 10: At dusk look to the west-southwest to find the star Spica very close to the moon. Jupiter is just to their right.

AUG. 12: Perseid meteor shower starts this morning.

AUG. 13: Perseid meteor shower is best this morning. First quarter moon.

AUG. 18: Low to the horizon in the east-northeast, Mercury is directly below Saturn.

AUG. 19: Full moon is at a perigee (closest) of 222,074 miles.

AUG. 20: Telescopes set up in Gulfport this evening.

AUG. 23: Mercury at greatest angular (elongation) from the sun.

AUG. 24: Mars to the lower right of the moon in the east-northeast after darkness falls.

AUG. 25: The stars of the Pleiades cluster to the left of the moon three hours after dusk in the east-northeast.

AUG. 26: Planetarium shows start again at St. Petersburg College this evening. Last quarter moon.

AUG. 30: Look to the east-northeast before the first light of dawn to find the stars Castor and Pollux (the brighter one) to the left of the crescent moon. Saturn and then Mercury are below them.

AUG. 31: Saturn to the lower right of the crescent moon before the light of dawn. Uranus at opposition. Moon is at an apogee again of 252,409 miles. Jupiter has been closing in on Venus all month. The two are now closest for the month at 1.5 degrees apart.

- Daryl L. Schrader is an astronomy and mathematics professor at St. Petersburg College and teaches astronomy at the University of South Florida.

[Last modified July 29, 2005, 08:44:03]


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