As twilight fades, stars of the night sky begin to appear, drawing attention to the magnitude of the brightness of these two planets in conjunction.
A pastor friend of mine offered the following information regarding the connection of this conjunction to Christmas:
“The last time a “grand conjunction” between Jupiter and Saturn occurred was 1226 A.D. Previous to that was 7 B.C., which was followed up by a very similar conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in 3 B.C. Johannes Kepler, a major figure from the scientific revolution which began in the 17th century, the scientist who first correctly explained the motion of the planets, referred to this as a “triple conjunction” because of the alignment of Jupiter, Saturn and the sun. He pointed out that this triple conjunction occurred three separate times in 7 B.C., a view confirmed by modern science. For dedicated, serious ancient stargazers like the Magi, this might have been just enough for them to saddle up their horses – or their camels – and take the long, long ride to Israel to check it out.”
The magnified conjunction, showing Jupiter and its four largest, most visible moons on the left, and Saturn to the right.
This year’s Gemenid Meteor Shower did not disappoint. Featuring a projected 103 meteors per hour, there were a few really spectacularly long, bright streaks across the Milky Way. Unfortunately, I was not able to capture those because of timing or camera orientation, but here are a few that did come across my lens on a chilly but clear midnight vigil:
As Neil deGrasse Tyson used to say on his nightly PBS show, “Keep looking up.”
The Perseid meteor shower peaks in the early-morning hours. This is the finest meteor shower of the year for northern stargazers, with 40-60 meteors per hour visible at the peak in the hours before dawn on August 13. Once called the Tears of St. Lawrence, this meteor shower occurs as the Earth moves through a stream of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle.
This year, the Moon is at third-quarter, not ideal for seeing the faintest meteors, but get started watching before midnight, away from city lights, and you will be rewarded with a bright meteor every few minutes or so.
The Perseids are also a long-lasting show, running from July 17 through August 25. So if you miss the peak, you still have a good chance to see some meteors.
So far this month, August 2020, we’ve been treated to Comet Neowise, Perseid meteor shower, and a bright planetary show of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. In these times, there are still lots of reasons to be thankful for the world, and universe, around us.
At summer’s midpoint, it seems appropriate to post a couple of images representative of the environment of the Big Bend region of Texas at this time of year.
First, an iconic critter with a badly maligned nickname of “horny toad.” Another name for his animal, taken from the 1887 yearbook of Texas Christian University and later adopted as the athletic mascot, “Hornfrogs” has stuck as another piece of misinformation. This wonderful little critter is neither a toad nor a frog, but is in fact a lizard, known officially as the Texas Horned Lizard, or (Phrynosoma cornutum).
The Texas Horned Lizard is listed as a threatened species in Texas, and its numbers were declining so fast in Oklahoma that the legislature tried unsuccessfully to have it listed as an endangered species. When threatened, it freezes perfectly still and does an amazing job of blending into its surroundings. Like all lizards, it’s a welcome addition to our yard, due to its ability to gobble up insects at an amazing rate. The biggest problem is that it tends to freeze motionless and blend into its surroundings, and is therefore difficult to see and avoid when walking around its territory.
Another summer icon of the desert is the rising full moon over Tabletop Mountain east of Marathon.
In addition to the full moon, late July and early August is a fantastic period of summer for stargazing. We were visited by the comet Neowise for several weeks, and one of the best meteor showers of the year is beginning now and increasing to its peak in the early morning hours of August 12-13. Also, Jupiter and Saturn are putting on a great show in the southeast, and the Milky Way is reaching its peak show for the summer during August and September. So, get outside after dark and KEEP LOOKING UP!
After making its debut in the morning sky, as noted in my previous post, Comet Neowise disappeared for a couple of days, only to reappear in the evening sky, now in the northwest, if you’re in the northern hemisphere. Here are a few images taken Saturday night around 10:30, looking northwest from Marathon, TX, over the Glass Mountains.
Neowise will be with us through the end of the month, moving a little farther west each evening. Go outside and look just above the horizon. It’s the best show since Comet Hale-Bopp in 1995.