Hey, Sky Fans!
Wednesday again! How’s your week going?
With the full Moon and more summer sunsets behind us than ahead, we’ve come into an interesting part of this last lunation, this last lunar month, before the big solar eclipse. The Moon’s waning now, angling back toward the daylight side of the earth; toward new Moon.
Day by day, little by little, we see it shrink a bit. The Sun’s farther to the west relative to it. So, there’s more time between sunset and moonrise, which means the Moon rising later in the evening.
This gives us some extra time under the stars in the earlier part of the night before they get washed out by moonlight, plus we get the added bonus of getting to see a gorgeous waning gibbous etched into the morning sky, big and slow over the western horizon as we start our day.
I’ve always found the part of the sky the Moon’s in now to be a little strange. The Moon just left the constellation Capricornus, which represents some kind of weird half-goat-half-fish monster of genetic engineering for a better life in Aquarius, the water-bearer. There are almost no bright stars to be found nearby. The brightest one around is Fomalhaut. It’s about 25 light years away and is the brightest star in Pisces Austrinus, the southern fish. If you’re about 25 years old, try to track this star down. You’ll be looking at light that left it right around when you were born. Pretty cool.
Fomalhaut’s odd name comes from Arabic and means mouth of the fish or mouth of the whale. It’s one of my favorites because it’s the first star outside our solar system where a planet was seen in visible light. Imagine, actually seeing planets around other stars. Amazing.
If there’s a constellation called the Southern Fish, then there must be a Northern Fish, right? Not exactly, but Pisces, the directionally agnostic fish, is nearby. With Cetus, the whale, and Eridanus, the river, the Moon’s spending the overnight shift in a very wet part of the skies for the next few days. Sail on, Sailor.
The bad news about all this waning gibbous business is this weekend’s Perseid meteor shower will, sigh… sorry for this pun… will probably also be washed out. I’m not really sure how much that matters, though. It’s true, the best time to see meteor showers is deep into the night, and the Perseid meteors, tiny grains of astrocrud burning up high in Earth’s atmosphere, look to be coming from a corner of the sky that rises late and after the Moon is up and making noise.
Really, though, the best time to see them is when you see them. So, why not? Meteors can come from any part of the sky, not just the area around the radiant. Why not just step out, grab some lawn, and have a look during that Moon-free early part of the evening? Just because it’s not the best part of the shower doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out. The way I figure it, maybe you’ll see see some meteors, or maybe you’ll see some new star you haven’t noticed before, or maybe you’ll learn something new about the friend you take with you.
It’s interesting. The more I’ve been reading lately, be it about the Perseid meteors or about the eclipse if you’re not seeing totality, the more it seems like people are trying to tell you not to do something great. Is a partial eclipse as great as totality? Of course not, but does that mean it’s not worth bothering (as I’ve seen on a couple of websites)? Come on. The partial eclipse will be wonderful, and we all know it. The off-peak Perseids, too.
Ignore the haters. I hope you’ll give it a shot. I’ll bring the late-night s’mores, no fish, I promise.
Clear Watery skies, everyone!