Like a pot set to simmer that never boils, the aurora never quite bubbled up into easy viewing last night. It was there alright, so long as you had dark skies and could see down to the northern horizon. I watched it on and off for an hour and a half while hunting globular clusters in the telescope. Looking ahead, we’re expecting a couple of quiet nights aurora-wise.
The past weekend I attended the annual Northwoods Starfest put on by the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society (CVAS) near Eau Claire, Wis. and spent many wonderful hours in a semi-conscious state of wakefulness well known to amateur astronomers who fight biorhythms to track down one more star cluster. We had clear skies and no mosquitos both nights of the gathering. Perfect.
Front and center in the southern sky was the eye-catching trio of Mars, Antares and Saturn. The varied movements of the planets in relation to the star and each other over the past months have created nearly every kind of triangle from scalene to obtuse. Attention geometry teachers — there’s a lesson here!
Outside of the Milky Way, it’s the most compelling sight in the summer sky. Watch tonight and tomorrow night as Mars slides just ¾° under the bright star Dschubba (JOOB-a) in the head of Scorpius the scorpion. Also known as Delta Scorpii, the star ordinarily shines around magnitude +2.2, but in July 2000 it underwent an eruption and began to rise in brightness, reaching +1.5. For a time, it nearly rivaled Antares. The outburst shot material into space that developed into a bright disk around the star. The fireworks aren’t over. Dschubba is still brighter than normal at +1.8 and continues to vary. With Mars nearby, it’s easy to identify and keep an eye on for future changes.
The moon and Jupiter also put on a nice show with a pretty conjunction on Friday evening. The next moon-planet gathering will occur on August 11 when the gibbous moon glides near Mars and Saturn morphing the triangle into a trapezoid of bright celestial gems. August 11-12 is also the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower, a topic we’ll take up tomorrow.
After great company, ideal dark skies, good food, lively lectures and avalanches of laughter, I feel fully recharged. Well, maybe not the sleep part yet, but a good nap should solve that.