Mark Your Calender - Astronomy Aug 27th, 2006  

Djeeper1987 48M
3389 posts
8/6/2006 7:25 pm

Last Read:
8/7/2006 4:59 pm

Mark Your Calender - Astronomy Aug 27th, 2006

Before you go too far and end up getting bitten on a fleshy portion of your body by your neighbor's dog, you need to know that the scientists who recommended the spying gig are astronomers, and the mysterious comings and goings at odd hours of the night to which they are referring is the nocturnal movement of our second closest celestial neighbor - Mars.
"Big deal!" you say. "Mars is always up there... that little red dot in the eastern sky." Well that may have been true a few months ago, but if you were really paying attention, you would have noticed that Mars no longer looks like a red point of light but appears to be more like a bright red star. Furthermore, it will continue to appear to grow larger throughout the month of August, and that is because it is drawing closer to Earth.

On Aug. 27, the fourth rock from the sun's orbit will bring it to a distance of less than 35 million miles from Earth, and that is the closest it has been in the last 50,000 years.

The word is that scientists and amateur astronomers will benefit from the spectacular view of Mars as it appears bigger and brighter than ever before, revealing its reflective south polar cap and whirling dust clouds.

"In simple terms, Earth and Mars are like two race cars going around a track." said Myles Standish, an astronomer from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Earth is on a track that is inside the track that Mars is on, and neither track is perfectly circular. There is one place where the two race tracks are closest together. When Earth and Mars are at that place simultaneously, it is an unusually close approach, referred to as a perihelic opposition."

Standish explained that the term opposition is used when Earth and another planet are lined up in the same direction from the sun. The term perihelic comes from perihelion, the point of orbit in which a celestial body is closest to the sun. During August, Mars will reach its perihelion and be in line with Earth and the sun at the same time.

The average opposition occurs every two years, when Earth laps Mars on its orbit around the sun . In 1995, the opposition brought Mars 63 million miles from Earth, twice as far as this most recent approach.

"It gets more complicated as the race tracks are changing shape and size and are rotating, changing their orientation," Standish said. "So this place where the two tracks are closest together constantly changes, changing the opposition closeness as well. This is why a great approach like the one this month hasn't happened in 50,000 years."

Besides Aug. 27, the night when Mars will be closest to the Earth, stargazers, especially those with cameras that hook up to their telescopes, will be in for a very special treat near the middle of the month, particularly on the 12th and 13th, because that is when Mars will be in close proximity to the full moon... only a couple moon widths away, which will make for a great photo op.

On those same two nights, the Perseid meteor shower will be peaking; however, the full moon undoubtedly will brighten the sky enough so as to diminish the display to a precious few streaks of light.

No matter whether you view Mars through a sophisticated telescope, a pair of binoculars or without any kind of magnification device, it is an opportunity that stargazers should take advantage of, because the red planet isn't due for another close visit until 2287.

August Sky Highlights

We have two very special events during the month of August. One of them, the annnual Perseid Meteor shower, will peak during the night of August 12, but a very bright Moon will probably limit the number of meteors we will be able to see. You can still check it out by going outside in the very early morning hours and looking to the northeast. I wouldn't get your hopes up too high, though.

The second event has never happened before and it will be a very long time before it happens again. On the morning of August 27, Mars will be closer to Earth than it ever has been during recorded history. This means that it will also be the brightest we have ever seen it before, or are likely to again. You can see Mars all month long, but it will be the brightest on the 27th.

Planetary guide for June

Mercury is visible for a very few days during the middle of the month, but it's so close to the horizon as to make it very hard to see, so we will just say we can't see it.

Venus will be hidden from us this month.

Mars is the real "star" of the show during August. It rises in the East about an hour after sunset and is visible all night long until it sets the following morning. It is in the southern part of the sky and is very easy to spot because it is so bright. On the evening of August 12, you can see the Red Planet very close to the Moon.

Jupiter is hidden from us during August.

Saturn starts to make a very impressive appearance in the early morning sky during the month of August. On the morning of August 23, you'll be able to see Saturn next to a slim old Moon just before sunrise.

You might get a chance to see Uranus and Neptune this month if you have a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

Pluto is visible during August, but is a target for experienced stargazers using very large, powerful telescopes.

Carpe Diem

cookiequeen1000 54F

8/6/2006 10:15 pm

Had heard some of this before, but never this much detail. Thanks for sharing. Wonder what kind of view of Mars I'll have from the dessert....hmmmmmmmmm. Looking forward to finding out.

florallei 100F

8/7/2006 4:43 pm

Hi DJeeper,

This Astronomy stuff is fascinating. I have a dear friend who is a Nuclear Physicist and he lives and eats this stuff. I never had any interest before I knew him other than, yes the stars, moon and sun are so beautiful but did not know any more than that.
He teaches me so much and I wish I could retain the info. but I love listening to him tell me such wonders of the Universe.

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