August 7 – 20, 2017
“In astronomy, a syzygy (…from the Ancient Greek …. suzugos meaning “yoked together”) is a straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies in a gravitational system.” –Wikipedia
Mount Washington — Find a perch with a panoramic view from which to participate this evening in a celestial alignment that is also a syzygy. The Full Green Corn Moon rises in the east-southeast at 8:06 p.m. opposite the Sun that, at the same moment, sets on the west-northwest horizon; planet Earth is in between. We Earthlings can experience being aligned with the motions of the sun on one side of our bodies and the moon on the other.
Those of us unable to get to a location with an unobstructed view for this occasion will see the sun disappear earlier and the moon rise above the hilly terrain later than 8:06 p.m. as twilight gathers.
As the sky darkens, all of us will see the brightest stars and planets appear. Glancing to the right, south and higher than the moon, golden planet Saturn is visible. To the right of Saturn, see Antares, the twinkling red star that is the heart of Scorpius the Scorpion. Directly above Luna, yellow-white star Altair leads the eye up to brilliant Vega and, to Vega’s left, Deneb, creating the Summer Triangle.
Moonlight washes out lower magnitude stars until Thursday or Friday, the 10th or 11th. By then, the moon comes up later. Look for the Great Square of Pegasus as it rises in the east at nightfall and travels the skies all night. Conversely, the light of a bright late-night and early-morning moon interferes with the peak of the Perseid meteor shower overnight Friday and Saturday, August 11-12 or 12-13.
Daybreak comes late enough these days to avail ourselves of the beauty of planet Venus as the shining Morning Star. This week, by 5:20 a.m., look to the east about 20 degrees above the horizon, still rather high. The goddess planet is visible until about 5:30 a.m. if you know where to look. Be aware that sunrise on the 8th is at 5:53 a.m. and 13 minutes later, at 6:06 a.m. on the 20th.
August 21, the date of the next “Eyes to the Sky” column, coincides with the Great American Solar Eclipse. I’m compelled to reiterate here the details of this celestial event as it will transpire here in the Berkshires. See my June 26 column for more information. Quoted from that edition:
“In our backyard, the partial eclipse begins at about 1:25 p.m. on Monday the 21st of August.….. At maximum eclipse, 2:45 p.m., the Sun will be a crescent of light, 72 percent darkened. That’s 1 hour 20 minutes from inception to peak. It will take another 1 hour 15 minutes for the sun to return to full: the partial eclipse ends at 3:58 p.m.”
Eyes must be protected from the Sun’s light if you are to look directly at it or, alternatively, by devising ways to see it indirectly. Inexpensive cardboard-framed sunlight filtering glasses are readily available, as are instructions for creating devices for solar projection.
Opportunity to participate
August 21, Mason Library, Great Barrington, free eclipse glasses and solar viewing. Details to follow.