August 2014

Planets Put on a Parade

Shortly after sunset and well before the sky gets dark, careful observers can look for faint orange Mars low in the western sky. Mars is creeping eastward through Virgo the maiden and by the end of the month will pass by the brightest star in the constellation of Libra the scales. The problem is that even the brightest star in Libra is not all that bright. You can increase you chances of spotting Mars on the evening of August 31 when a thin crescent Moon positions itself near Mars to serve as a handy guide.

Saturn is also in Libra but appears much brighter than Mars even though Mars is much closer to us at a distance of 120 million miles (194 million km) away. Saturn is more than 932 million miles (1.5 billion km) away but appears brighter because it’s so much larger than Mars.

You can even use Saturn to help locate Mars on August 3. Find Saturn in Libra. Draw a line from Saturn through the Moon and continue about the same distance. This line will point to Mars, and if you keep going, you will run into the bright, blue-white star Spica in Virgo.

You will definitely want to get up before the Sun on the morning of August 18, to see an extremely close conjunction of bright Jupiter and blazingly brilliant Venus. The two planets will appear so close to one another in the sky as to almost touch.

Fear not! Interplanetary collision is not imminent. The planets just happen to lie along the same line of sight. On August 18, Venus will be a little less than 150 million miles (242 million km) away compared to Jupiter, which will be 579 million miles (931 million km) away in the far distance.

Observers will need a clear view to the east-northeast with no buildings, trees, or clouds in the way. You can start looking as early as 5:15 am CDT, but Venus and Jupiter will be very low at just 5 degrees above the horizon. As dawn brightens the sky, the pair will rise higher. The best window of opportunity may be from 5:30 to 5:45 am CDT, when the planets reach 12 degrees above the horizon, and you can safely avoid staring into Sun as it rises.

Wait a few more days, and all the planets will have moved in their orbits enough to create quite a gap between Venus and Jupiter. You might want to get up early again on the morning of August 23 to see the thin crescent Moon join this dynamic duo.

Meteors Maybe

Each year in early to mid August you often hear about the Perseid meteor shower. At its peak on August 12, people under clear, dark skies could see as many as 60 meteors per hours.

The key phrase is “clear, dark skies”. This year, the peak of Perseid meteor activity falls two days after full Moon. On the evening of August 12, the Moon will rise around 9:00 pm, and once the Moon is up, its light will wash out all the brightest meteors.

The best times for watching the Perseids this year will be between sunset and moonrise on August 12 and after 2:00 am on the morning of August 13 when the annoyingly bright Moon has moved somewhat into the western half of the sky.

Since the Perseids are essentially a bust this year, there are two better opportunities to observe meteors in the coming months. The Orionid meteor shower peaks on October 21 with very little competition from the Moon and the possibility of 20 meteors per hour. The Geminid meteor shower peaks on December 14 when the Moon doesn’t rise until midnight, allowing for a long evening of winter stargazing and meteor watching.

Last of the Summer Star Parties

The next free public star party is scheduled for Friday, August 15, at Bells Bend Outdoor Center from 8:30 to 10:30 pm. This site is located west of Nashville, north of I-40.

Members of the Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society will set up their telescopes so everyone who attends can get a great view of Saturn, the Hercules star cluster, and more. Star parties are great fun for all ages.

Star parties are weather dependent and may be cancelled. Visit our web site for updates before making the trip, especially if the weather is iffy. The web site also features star party tips, driving directions, and a calendar of future events.

Lasers! Lasers! Lasers!

Saturday nights through August, the Sudekum Planetarium will be rockin’ with great music as we present Cosmic Concerts. Yes, there are lasers, but there are also millions of stars and fulldome digital effects performing to loud music.

In Summer Laze at 8:30 pm, celebrate summer fun ranging from a beautiful day to a good good night. Travel everywhere, surfing, Rio, and even an octopus’ garden; all to the music of the Beach Boys, Beatles, Black Eyed Peas, Johnny Cash, Katy Perry, U2, and others. And we’ll have fun, fun, fun, till her daddy takes the lasers awaaaay.

For 9:30 pm, the music of Led Zeppelin provides the soundtrack for a unique experience in sight and sound and features favorites such as Whole Lotta Love, Kashmir, and of course – Stairway to Heaven.

At 10:30 pm, the planetarium goes Laser Dark. This alternative music experience features Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains, Rage Against the Machine, Garbage, Rammstein, and White Zombie. But the dark wave won’t really be dark; as brilliant lasers, millions of stars, and fulldome digital imagery carry you back to the industrial 90s.

Dome Club Opens in October

The Sudekum Planetarium offers a new unique environment to experience art, music, and much more. Dramatic and immersive programs will be presented from 7:30 to 9:00 pm on the third Thursday of each month (except December) beginning on October 16.

Dome Club kicks off with Home Grown Dome, a 45 minute, "visual music" compilation of fourteen short works created by students, artists, and animators from across the country.