StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

AUGUST  2005


Print Large Sky Charts For 10 p.m. EDT:   NORTH | EAST | SOUTH | WEST | ZENITH

[Moon Phases]


468    AUGUST 7, 2005:   Perseids Arrive
The Perseid meteor shower peaks on Saturday, about 1 p.m. EDT, but that may actually give North America a two night advantage which may also include a burst of Perseid activity in the predawn hours of Friday morning. On Friday about 5 a.m. EDT, there is a chance that the Earth will encounter a strand of debris shed by parent Comet Swift-Tuttle in its 1479 passage around the sun. Meteor rates could spike for a brief hour or two from the norm of 60 meteors per hour to perhaps as many as 150 shooting stars per hour. These types of predictions are still of the hit or miss variety, but it’s nice to know that North America is the favored target area. Perseid rates will still be high on Saturday morning, but because of the spike prediction, I would choose Friday morning as the principal time for observation. Although Perseid meteors can be detected as soon as it gets dark, the action doesn’t really start to heat up until after midnight. The analogy is similar to how the front windshield of a car, moving through rain, gets plastered by many more drops than the back window. North America passes from a rear to a frontal position around 1 a.m. local time. You should note meteor rates increasing after midnight. Perseid meteors are easy to identify because they are swift and appear to trail back to a vanishing point or radiant, which for this shower is located between the constellations of Perseus and Cassiopeia. About half of the Perseids that you’ll observe will also leave a wake or an ionization glow that can remain briefly or persist for several seconds after the meteor event ends. Some Perseids even sputter or explode. A map of the radiant area can be found in the web StarWatch section at below. Also check into

[Perseid Meteor Shower]
Perseid Meteors should be abundant on the mornings of August 12 and 13. Look NE starting around midnight to catch the year's most popular meteor display. Graphics by Gary A. Becker...

469    AUGUST 14, 2005:   An Elegant Universe
Physics, the study of matter, energy, forces, and motion and how they interrelate is in the midst of a revolutionary journey which may ultimately allow us to comprehend everything rationally. String theory, the new Holy Grail of physics, is so bizarre, yet so appealing, that maybe you’ll want to learn more about it. Let me pitch just one of its ideas. We all know that matter, the chair that you are sitting on, the printer’s ink that forms the words which are allowing you to read this article, is composed of atoms and molecules. Atoms are composed of three more basic units, protons and neutrons which form the nucleus of the atom and electrons which orbit the nucleus. Each of these subatomic particles, the proton, neutron, and electron are composed of still smaller units called quarks. Now quantum physicists are starting to believe that quarks are composed of billions of vibrating, wriggling string-like entities. The strings themselves are energy, not matter, and their vibrations are governed by six very small dimensions which control the manner in which these oscillations occur, thus giving us a sense of order and predictability to the matter that surrounds us. In its essence, energy disguises itself as matter. In the macro, string theory predicts multiple universes which co-exist and are influenced by the decisions we make in this universe. On the micro, string theory suggests that our thoughts, wishes, and desires influence matter on the quantum (smallest) level. It lends credence to the benefits of positive thought, the power of prayer, and that we have an essence, a spirit, or a soul that continues after we die. Would it not be ironic, if in the end, string theory allowed science to prove the existence of God?

470    AUGUST 21, 2005:   Venus and Jupiter Close
I was wondering how I was going to find the time to write this StarWatch. Then returning east from a month of astronomy volunteering at Bryce Canyon National Park in southwestern Utah, my Saturn Vue suddenly quit just over the Texas border on I-40. Suddenly, my wife, Sue, and I had plenty of time on our hands. It was a beautiful canary sunset on the cow-studded plains, and by the time the tow arrived from Adrian, population 159, Venus and Jupiter stood high over the northern Texas panhandle. In fact, I initially confused lower Venus for higher Jupiter. That’s because this stretch of I-40, which is one of my favorites, is absolutely anvil flat with almost no trees. It brought to mind the upcoming Venus-Jupiter conjunction (grouping) that would unfold in a particularly stunning way over the plains during the next two weeks. It will also be visible worldwide. Currently, Venus and Jupiter are low in the west by 8:30 p.m. Venus, to the right, is seven times brighter than Jupiter and easily seen 30 minutes after sundown. As the week unfolds, watch as Venus closes on Jupiter. By the evening of August 31, Jupiter lies above Venus separated by only three moon diameters. The following evening, Venus has jagged slightly to the left of Jupiter, and their separation has narrowed to just over two moon diameters. By September 2, Venus is now to Jupiter’s left and their distance is widening. Albeit the anxieties of being stranded on I-40 with thundering 18-wheelers, we met some mighty fine Texans that including “D.R.” of Jay’s Towing and Repair who got us and our gear to Amarillo. I also can’t forget Sam Perry, Leah Stanley, Curtis Bybee, and especially mechanic, Jesse Brinlee, from Saturn of Amarillo who got us back on the road the following day. Thanks so much!

[Saturn of Amarillo]
Thanks to the fine folks of Saturn of Amarillo, Texas my wife, Susan, and I were on our way back to the East Coast Friday morning, August 19 after breaking down on I-40 Wednesday evening. The story is above. From left to right, Curtis Bybee, Leah Stanley, and Sam Perry, all helped to get us back on the road as we returned from Bryce Canyon National Park in southwestern Utah. Mechanic, Jesse Brinlee, the real hero of this story had left for the day. Photo by Gary A. Becker...

[Venus-Jupiter Conjunction]
Corn tassels create an artificial horizon at my favorite evening location to view the planets. Jupiter is to the left while Venus is right. Above Venus and Jupiter are stars of the constellation of Virgo. August 24 photo by Gary A. Becker...

471    AUGUST 28, 2005:   The Vegans Did It!
I have long been suspicious of a connection between a small town in West Texas and a bright star which can be seen nearly overhead in the late summer sky. They are both called Vega. Brilliant, white Vega, the star, is close to the Earth, only 26 light years distant. It is used as a reference star for navigators and as a reference for stellar brightness. Its magnitude is precisely 0.0. A ring of dust veils this luminary, and astronomers believe that planets may be forming there. Vega “starred” in the well-crafted, 1997 science fiction thriller, “Contact,” as the origin of the alien message transmission. I believe Vegans, disguised in human form, are actually living amongst us in Vega, Texas. The evidence seems to be overwhelming. Last year, billboards along I-40 with recognizable alien creatures announced that Vegans were welcoming tourists. These same signs were absent this year. Unfortunately, I failed to take pictures. But this year I did even better. I ventured into their town. It was noon and no one was in sight. Suddenly, four Vegans disguised as male teenagers appeared in a red Ford pickup. “Clever,” I mused. But they acted strangely. They waved and smiled sincerely before they sped down a bumpy range road. “Cows,” I thought, “They must be after cows.” But there is more. Returning home, I told my wife I wanted to stay overnight in Vega. We saw signs for the Vega Best or Bates Western Motel. We were driving too fast too catch it all. She said, “NO—Too Deserted”! So we passed the town with its single humongous grain elevator. Fifteen miles down the road at the Wildorado exit, my Saturn Vue suddenly died. Saturn of Amarillo said it was a short in the computer wiring system, but I knew better. The Vegans had done it. Pictures online!

[Vega, Texas]
Vega's FSA (Flying Saucer Association) Welcomes You!   There are aliens among us and they live in Vega, Texas. Notice the "star" above the "V" in Vega. Read above... Photography by Gary A. Becker...

August Star Map

August Moon Phase Calendar