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Follow the Moon

Sunday - 7/31/2011, 12:27pm  ET

NASA's newest mission to Jupiter, Juno, in an artist's impression. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Greg Redfern,

This month the Moon will be your guide to finding planets, star clusters and only the brightest Perseid Meteors. With August being the last full month of summer many people get outside and go on vacation. Take some time to look up at the sky and enjoy the view as provided by your guide - the ever changing Moon.

Skywatching Highlights

One of the best meteor showers of the year, the Perseids, occurs on the night of the 12th and 13th. Unfortunately, the bright light of the Full Moon will hide all but the very brightest "falling stars." Just watch the sky for bright meteors during the evening.

Mercury will be in the eastern sky about 45 minutes before dawn at the end of the month. If you have a clear and unobstructed horizon you should be able to see golden-yellow Mercury. On the 27th Mercury will be below and to the left of the thin crescent Moon. Binoculars will help you find the elusive planet. Also get the latest on the MESSENGER mission to Mercury here.

Venus is not visible this month.

Mars is well up in the eastern sky before the light of dawn begins. The Red Planet is to the immediate left of the crescent Moon on the 25th. Just to the the left of Mars lies two bright stars, Castor and Pollux -- Castor is the higher of the two. The next NASA mission to Mars, Mars Science Laboratory, named Curiosity, is at Cape Kennedy undergoing final checkout for a launch later in the year.

NASA's DAWN mission arrived at Vesta on the 16th. The spacecraft is in orbit and studying the second largest asteroid in the main belt up close and personal for the next year. Then DAWN will set sail for the largest asteroid, Ceres. Vesta is directly opposite the Sun on the 5th and is visible all night but is relatively dim. I will post a finder chart on my blog for those of you interested in trying to spot Vesta.

Jupiter dominates the eastern sky rising around midnight as August begins and around 10 p.m. as the month ends. The gibbous Moon will be just above Jupiter on the 19th. Juno, NASA's next mission to Jupiter is scheduled for launch on August 5th.

Saturn is in the West-Southwestern sky at sunset. The ringed planet is to the left a famous double star, Porrima (Gamma Virginis) all month long. The crescent Moon glides below this duo on the 3rd. NASA's Cassini mission is till going strong.

First Quarter Moon is on the 6th and this month's Full Moon occurs on the 13th. This month's Full Moon is called the "Full Sturgeon Moon" in recognition of the peak of Sturgeon fish in the Great Lakes and other bodies of water. Late evening the Last Quarter Moon is below the Pleiades star cluster on the 21st. New Moon is on the 28th. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter remains in orbit around the Moon.

Here are our down to Earth events for this month:
  • Open House at the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus Observatory, will be at 9 p.m. on the 5th and the 20th. There will be a "Vesta Fiesta" celebrating the Dawn mission to the asteroid Vesta on the 5th so be sure to attend. For information on other "Vesta Fiesta" events including NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, click here

  • The National Capital Astronomers (NCA) have a star party at Rock Creek Park on the 27th at 8:30 p.m.

  • The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) will meet at 7 p.m. at George Mason University (GMU) on the 14th. The speaker is Bryan Wilburn and his topic is "Beginning in Astrophotography."
  • NOVAC will hold a public star party at Great Meadow on the 19th from 8 to 11:00 p.m.
  • The United States Naval Observatory (USNO) has Monday night tours but space is limited.
  • The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) has several space related activities this month.
  • The National Air and Space Museum astronomer Sean O'Brien hosts a public star party on the 20th at Sky Meadows State Park from 7:30 to 11 p.m.
  • The TriState Astronomers (TSA) General Meeting will not meet this month as the Brish Planetarium is closed for the summer.
  • The Astronomical Society of Greenbelt (formerly the Greenbelt Astronomy Club) (ASG) will hold a star party on the 6th and 20th starting at 9 p.m. at the Northway Field and Observatory. On Aug. 7 ASG will host "Sidewalk Astronomy" at Roosevelt Square, across from the movie theater (129 Centerway, Greenbelt, MD), at 8 p.m. ASG will meet on the 25th at 7:30 p.m. at the Greenbelt Community Center and the speaker will be Craig Levin on "Astronomy vs. Astrology, What's the Difference?"
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