As the peak of the Perseid meteor shower approaches on August 11/12, five planets and the moon are becoming visible just after sunset. The show has begun.
Planets After Sunset
Shortly after sunset, look for bright Mars to the south. You'll notice the reddish planet does not appear to twinkle like the reddish star to its left. Ironically, that star is Antares, whose root words "anti Ares" translate into "rival of Mars." Above and left of Mars, is the planet Saturn. West toward where the sun went down are three more planets in a row--Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus. Mercury in particular is rather elusive, for it is always near the sun and seldom far above the horizon. On August 5, the moon is near Jupiter; on August 11, the moon completes a parallelogram with Mars, Antares, and Saturn (image below).
The Kemil Beach access area is located one mile north and three miles east of the Indiana Dunes visitor center. The visitor center is located at the intersection of US Hwy 20 and US Hwy. 49 north of Chesterton, Indiana. See my blog post Star of the National Park Service or the CAS page for GPS and mapping details to get to the stargazing event. Look for the red arrow and star. For more information on this or other programs at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, call 219-395-1882 or check the park’s website at www.nps.gov/indu.
Find Two Anniversary Stars
As darkness settles in, two anniversary stars are readily visible toward the northeast--Ruchbah and Scheat. Ruchbah is 100 light years away in the "W" of Cassiopeia the Queen. The starlight that left Ruchbah in 1916 when the National Park Service was formed is just now reaching our eyes.
At about the same altitude and to Ruchbah's right is Pegasus, which contains the star Scheat, Indiana's Bicentennial Star. Scheat is 200 light years away in the corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. Traveling at 186,000 miles per second, its emanating starlight from the year 1816 when Indiana became a state is striking our eyes during this bicentennial celebration.
Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Thursday Night
Where do you look for meteors? All around the constellation Perseus, which rises in the northeast just after Cassiopeia and Pegasus. With the Perseids, however, you don't have to wait until the peak night--look several days before and after, for the shower has a long duration. I've been seeing several meteors each of the last few nights. It's called the Perseid meteor shower because the blitzes of light radiate outward from the constellation Perseus. Occasionally as a bonus you'll also see sporadic meteors unrelated to the main shower. Bring bug spray and some warm clothes so you don't get chased away from a gorgeous night of stargazing.
The Indiana Dunes State Park Interpretive Services will again be hosting its 9th Annual Perseid Meteor Stargaze from 8:30pm to dawn at the Indiana Dunes State Park beach pavilion on August 13.
Night sky mapping and Native American sky lore begin at 8:30pm at the Beach Pavilion. After 9pm, the stars will begin to appear. Constellation talks will highlight the many star formations that can be viewed over the dunes this time of year. Additionally, the naturalists will have a telescope on hand for deep sky viewing. The evening coincides with the annual Perseid meteor shower. Saturday night will still offer excellent viewing, with exception for a waxing gibbous moon. All active stargazers may sleep under the stars all night long. No camping equipment allowed (tents, grills, fires). Blankets and air mattresses are allowed.
Participation is free after paying the standard gate fee of $7 for Indiana vehicles and $12 for out-of-state vehicles. For more information, call the nature center at (219) 926-1390.
12 Friday Women Experience the Outdoors: Summer Night Sky St. Patrick’s County Park: Red Barn 9 to 11pm Fee: $7/person Spend an evening absorbing the beauty of the night sky. A brief presentation will introduce you to the night sky at this time of year. Afterwards, enjoy refreshments, look through a telescope, and chat with a member of the Michiana Astronomical Society who will be on hand to answer questions and share their knowledge. Observe the waxing moon at twilight and watch for a shooting star (the Perseid Meteor Showers peak on August 12). Registration and payment are required by August 8.
Added Aug. 16:
Here's my social media comment from June 27, 2016:
In the August 2016 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine, Joe Rao writes about the possibility of the Perseids getting a "Jupiter boost" this year. Every 11.86 years, Jupiter's sidereal period, the giant planet's gravitational field shifts the debris trail from Comet Swift-Tuttle (the progenitor comet) closer to earth's orbit. Occasionally, that extra stream intersects with earth's path when earth arrives there in August. The article cites additional reasons to anticipate a "prime year" for the Perseid meteor shower when it peaks the morning of August 12 (1240 UT), and encourages observers to look the nights on either side of peak, for "peak activity usually lasts for 24 hours" with the Perseids.