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Skywatch

Skywatch week of AUGUST 12, 2019

Mon Aug 12, 2019            LAST CALL FOR PERSEIDS

The Perseid meteor shower reached peak activity yesterday, but tonight should still be pretty good for viewing it. These “shooting stars” are bits of comet dust that fall to earth at high speeds, superheating the air and lighting it up, leaving a momentary bright streak in the night sky. Most meteor showers are best after midnight, and this one’s no exception, especially as the bright light from the waxing gibbous moon spoils the view during the evening hours this year. Dress warmly, protect yourself against mosquitoes, find a safe spot that’s away from bright streetlights. Bring a lounge chair that lets you lean all the way back, and of course refreshments such as iced tea and chocolate chip cookies, are always welcome. Meteor showers are fun, but you can go for several minutes before spotting one. And if it’s cloudy you won’t be able to see them. Face east and look toward the top of the sky for best results.

Tue Aug 13, 2019              SUN FACTS

It’s at this time of year that I really understand the power of the sun. The heat just doesn’t let up in Florida, due to our more southerly latitude and the sun’s higher placement in the sky. And it’s no wonder. The sun’s diameter is about 865,000 miles. That’s over a hundred times the diameter of the Earth. And in terms of volume, a million Earths could fit inside it. The Sun's mass is 333,434 times the mass of our planet. In fact the sun contains 99.86% of the mass of the entire solar system! Its surface temperature is over 10 thousand degrees Fahrenheit, while its core temperature is 27 million degrees! The thermonuclear fusion processes that take place there, as hydrogen is converted into helium, supply us with pretty much all of our light and energy. So even though we’re 93 million miles away from the sun, it’s big enough, and hot enough, to keep things sizzling here in sunny Florida.

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Wed Aug 14, 2019            BIG DIPPER AS A GUIDEPOST

The Big Dipper is in the northwestern sky in the evenings at this time of year. Once you find it up there - seven fairly bright stars that trace out the pattern of a giant saucepan in the heavens - you can use the Big Dipper to find other stars. Connect the two outer stars in its bowl together, and you can trace out a line that will point toward the North Star. Continue with the line, and it will lead you on to the constellation Cassiopeia, very low in the northeast. Now draw a curve through the stars in the handle of the Dipper, and extend that curve out to the south, flying off the handle, so to speak – and there you'll discover two more bright stars – Arcturus and Spica. Arcturus is in the constellation Boötes, a scattering of stars which some folks think looks like a kite, although personally I see an ice cream cone here, with Arcturus at the cone’s tip.       

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