Sun rises at 5:51am
Sun sets at 6:45pm
Moon phase: New Moon, virtually absent
Moon rises: 8:21am, Saturday
Moon sets: 9:11pm, Saturday
Chances are you won’t spot this weekend’s extremely young moon, but it will become more visible day by day. Each night, it will grow or wax, showing a wider crescent. Look in the west after sunset, and as the week progresses, the moon will be out later in the night, because the moon sets about 50 minutes later each night, as always.
On all of these evenings, watch for the soft glow of earthshine on the dark side of the moon’s crescent. Earthshine is twice-reflected sunlight; it is sunlight that has bounced off Earth and is now bouncing off the moon’s dark side – and then back to our eyes here on Earth. Think about that: a bright Earth lights up the night-time side of the moon in much the same way that a bright moon lights up the night-time terrain here on Earth.
Watch for it in the evenings ahead. On a waxing moon, the lunar terminator – the line between dark and light on the moon’s disk – shows you where sunrise is on the moon. It’s along the terminator that you have your best three-dimensional views of the lunar terrain through binoculars or the telescope. Enjoy this evening activity with your friends and family, especially any children with an interest in nature!
But there is more! This is the time for the much loved annual Perseid meteor shower. The Perseid shower lasts from about July 17 to August 24 every year. This year, it is expected to produce the most meteors from late evening of August 12 to dawn August 13. However, the viewing won’t be outstanding because the moon will be bright by then, drowning many meteors in its glare. So start looking now, because there should be some meteors preceding the true peak of the Perseids, and the moon will be virtually absent, thus the sky will be dark. This will allow any meteors, whether dim or brilliant, to be all the more noticeable.
Knowledgeable stargazers know that the hours before dawn are when most meteor showers are best, and the Perseids are no exception. After midnight, the part of Earth you’re standing on has turned into the meteor stream, which means the radiant point for the shower will be above your horizon. Of course, you’ll never see as many meteors in the evening as you will after midnight, but – if you are watching during the evening hours – you might catch an earth-grazer, which is a slow-moving and long-lasting meteor, traveling horizontally across your sky. Earth-grazers might be seen even in bright moonlight. They tend to be seen in late evening, or around midnight.
Planning to give it a try? Get away from any bright lights, and avoid flash lights. Do make yourself comfortable. Sprawl out upon a reclining lawn chair, or on the hood of a car, but be sure to have a wide open view of the sky. Bring along a blanket and give yourself time to let your eyes adapt to the dark, at least 20 minutes or so.
The Perseids tend to have a lot of fireballs, which can light up the night, and they may even have some colours in the meteor trains. A meteor train is a persistent glow in the air, left by some meteors after they have faded from view. Trains are caused by luminous ionized matter left in the wake of this incoming space debris. A good percentage of Perseids is known to leave persistent trains. They linger for a moment or two after the meteor has gone. Embrace the beauty of the night!
Thank you for keeping up with the Night Sky articles. If you are out later on in the week, each star rises about four minutes earlier each day than written here, and the moon rises 50 minutes later. Night Sky is researched and compiled by Lisa Davis-Burnett. Earthsky.org is a key resource for information and images. Questions or comments? Email [email protected]