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A quick astronomical vacation Aug 11

By now, if you read this blog with any regularity, you know I like things astronomical. August 12 has a two-part event you won’t want to miss, even if you aren’t into astronomy. It takes only a little preparation for this one, and you don’t need a telescope or even any expertise. Think of it as a good excuse to get your date out in the dark for a little hand-holding, or to take the kids on a little campout.

Plan an evening that includes sunset, dinner or a movie or both, then a trip to someplace out in the country where the sky is reasonably dark. Next to a lake or big park is nice. Put a couple lawn chairs in the trunk, and maybe some insect repellent.

Come sunset, go out and look due west. Here’s a chart of the western horizon about 9PM Eastern:

the 270 means due west

See the moon? That’s how to get your bearings. Don’t worry about the stars, but look at the planets! Four of the five naked-eye-visible planets are close together! That doesn’t happen very often, especially at as convenient a time as right after sunset.

Now go have dinner or take in that movie. Go to your choice of place where it’s dark, get out the lawn chairs, and watch the sky. This is the night of the Perseid meteor shower, the first big meteor shower of the year. Meteors can appear any time after dark, but the best time is from midnight to dawn. The moon will have set, so the sky should be good and dark. Give yourself several minutes to let your eyes adapt to the dark. You should be able to see several dozen per hour if you have fairly dark skies.

It doesn’t matter what part of the sky you watch. The shooting stars can appear anywhere, though they’ll all appear to have come from a constellation in the northern sky, Perseus. Here’s what one lucky guy captured with his camera last year:Don’t count on getting a picture of a meteor, but it should be a night to remember!

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