10:55 p.m., Aug. 31
The Perseid Meteor Shower, Venus, Mars, and Saturn
The Perseid Meteor Shower, the best known of the many meteor displays that return annually, will take place under optimum (moon-glare-free) conditions this year. During the hours between midnight and dawn (approximately 4:30am) on the mornings of Thursday, August 12 and Friday, August 13, some 60 meteors or more should be visible to observers situated under clear, dark skies. Hourly rates will be less if you observe during evening hours or on mornings before or after the 12th or 13th. The Perseid meteors, like other similar annual meteor showers, occur when the Earth plows through a broad stream of tiny dust particles left over from the past disintegration of a comet. The particles burn up as air friction slows them at heights of about 50 miles, resulting in luminous trails visible for a second or two from the ground. Following the passage of a particularly bright meteor a lingering glow, called a train, sometimes remains for a few seconds or more. This year's display takes place during the dark of the moon, ensuring a dark sky as long as you observe from a location far from city lights. Lie in a comfortable position, facing northeast, under an open sky, for best results. Strong coffee is advised.
The Planets Venus, Mars, and Saturn are performing an intricate dance through the first half of August. Look for all three in the western sky at dusk, beginning with Venus, which is brashly brilliant. Mars (dim and reddish) and Saturn (dim and white) hover above Venus until mid-August, changing positions day-by-day, but remaining within a few degrees of one another. On the evening of Thursday, August 12, the thin, waxing crescent moon will be visible below the triad of planets; on the 13th the somewhat fatter cresent moon will have moved to the left of the three.