For those who enjoy casting a skyward eye, August presents three opportunities to be swept up in astrological grandeur. The first occurs Aug. 10, when the full moon coincides with perigee, the closest point in its elliptical orbit around Earth.
Astronomers call these events perigee full moons, but they have lately earned the popular moniker “supermoons.” The effect is the moon appears up to 30 percent brighter than “normal” full moons and, less noticeable, around 10 percent larger. A new moon can be a supermoon, too, and both result in larger than usual spring tides.
This same full moon makes for less than ideal viewing conditions for this year’s Perseid meteor shower, but it is still worth a peek at the northeastern sky before dawn on the mornings of Aug. 11, 12 and 13. Earth passes through the tail of the comet Swift-Tuttle to produce the Perseid shower, and because the density of the debris is unpredictable, the show can be either a fizzle or spectacular.
A surer bet occurs on the morning of Aug. 18, when a conjunction occurs between two of the brightest objects in the sky: Jupiter and Venus. An hour or more before sunrise, the two planets will appear in the eastward sky only one-fifth of a degree apart. That’s close, especially when you consider that the diameter of the moon spans one-half of a degree.
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July 2014 issue