Sky's Up Summer 2016 - Page 4

Pondering your average alien I what’s up in the sky May 6 – Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower Peak The Eta Aquarids have a good chance of putting on a particularly nice show this year because the annual meteor shower’s peak will coincide with the New Moon on May 6. The shower is caused by the Earth’s passage through debris left behind by the famous Halley’s Comet, which is also the source for another meteor shower — the Orionids — every October. Especially amazing for southern hemisphere observers, who could be treated to 30 or more meteors per hour, the Eta Aquarids appear to radiate from the Aquarius constellation. May 22 – Mars at Opposition If you are looking to get to know our celestial neighbors, May presents an ideal opportunity to see Mars truly shine. On May 22, the Red Planet will be positioned directly opposite of the Sun when viewed from Earth. This means it will be in a prime viewing situation for most of the night. To the naked eye, Mars will appear as a red-hued point of light in the Scorpius Constellation, but those with moderate telescopes should be treated to some surface details. June 3 – Saturn at Opposition Saturn and its dazzling rings will be on prominent display as the planet reaches opposition in early June. During this event, Saturn will be positioned directly opposite of the Sun when viewed from Earth. It will rise as the Sun sets and stay up all night, which provides for ample viewing time. In addition to delving into Saturn’s fascinating ring system, small telescope users might want to look for Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons, and the dark groove in the rings that is identified as the Cassini Division. To the naked eye, Saturn will appear as a steady, gold point of light. Following opposition, the planet will remain a brilliant showpiece of the night sky for several months. July 28-29 - Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower Peak A thin crescent Moon should provide little interference for the Delta Aquarid’s loosely-defined peak on July 28-29. With a radiant point in the Aquarius 4 COURTESY OF ESA/NASA/SOHO This time-lapse image shows Mercury transiting the Sun in 2006. Mercury to transit sun in May One of 2016’s standout astronomical events will happen on May 9 as our solar system’s innermost planet transits the Sun. During this fairly rare event, Mercury will follow a path between the Sun and the Earth — making it appear as a small dark disk marching across the blazing backdrop of the Sun. Since this is a solar viewing event, observers MUST take precautions to avoid looking at the Sun — either unaided or aided — without proper protective eye gear. Even momentary visual contact with the Sun’s light rays through a telescope or optical device Constellation, the Delta Aquarids begin their annual amble across the sky in midJuly, bloom in late-July and fade out in the third week of August. During the peak, the shower can produce 15-20 meteors per hour. Like other meteor showers, the Delta Aquarids are the result of Earth’s passage through debris left behind by a comet. However, the exact source comet for this shower has been a matter of debate. The most likely candidate is Comet 96P/Machholz, which was not discovered until 1986. Aug. 12 - Perseid Meteor Shower Peak Although the waxing gibbous moon will present some interference, the alwaysanticipated Perseid meteor shower should still produce some real stunners not outfitted for solar observation can instantly cause irreversible damage to your eye(s). The best way to safely observe this event is to project the image of the Sun through a telescope and onto a white screen. The transit, which will run from 11:12 to 18:42 Universal Time, can be seen from any location where the Sun is up during the transit hours. It can be enjoyed in its entirety from parts of western Europe, western Africa, eastern North America and South America. The last transit of Mercury occurred in 2006, and the next will be in 2019. when it peaks around Aug. 12. Caused by the Earth’s passage through debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids have been known to produce 80100 meteors per hour during their peak, and many of these display impressive persistent trains. The shower does favor northern hemisphere viewers and occurs in the perfect season for a long night of languishing under the stars. The best time to view will be in the predawn hours well after the moon has set. Aug. 27 - Venus and Jupiter Conjunction The closest planetary pairin