Comet watching

The NEOWISE comet can be seen in the northwest shortly after sunset for the next few weeks, thanks to Hampshire County’s “dark skies,” says Tom Kennedy, who photographed it from his home on North River Road. Though the light dome over Romney makes it difficult to see with the naked eye, the comet can be seen with binoculars or a good camera, The brightest comet since Hale-Bopp crossed the sky 22 years ago, NEOWISE will not return for 6,800 years, says NASA, which named the comet for the Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope that discovered it.

August opens with a Romney sunrise at 6:15 a.m., a sunset at 8:28 p.m. with sunlight lasting 14 hours and 14 minutes.

The sun creeps across Cancer through Aug. 9, then switches into Leo for the rest of August. August ends with a 6:43 a.m. sunrise, a 7:48 p.m. sunset with sunlight lasting for 13 hours and 5 minutes.

On the evening of Aug. 1, the moon appears below the bright planet Jupiter. On the next evening, the moon will appear to the left of the planet Saturn, not as bright as Jupiter. On Aug. 3, the moon is full, rising about sunset and shining all through the night.

It won’t be ’til Aug. 10 that the moon will encounter another planet – Mars in the eastern dawn. On Aug. 13, the crescent moon will appear near the bright star Aldebaran of Taurus. On Aug. 15, the crescent moon, the brilliant planet Venus and Aldebaran will line up in the 5 a.m. eastern dawn. On Aug. 19, the moon swings from the morning to the evening side of the sun – new moon, the start of a lunar phase cycle.

The evening and morning of Aug. 11-12 is the peak of Perseid Meteor Shower. Meteor showers occur when the Earth plows across the broad orbit of a comet littered with pea-sized grit particles. Comets are “dirty snowballs” whose outer layers melt with the grit being left behind along the comet’s orbit.

When the grit is about 50 miles altitude, it bursts into flame from air friction. In a second or 2, the grit turns into dust. The Perseid shower comes from Comet Swift Tuttle discovered in the 1880s. The best way to see the most meteors is lie on a tarp in an open field in the early morning hours when the meteors are striking the Earth head on.

 In the last 12 days of August, the moon grows in lighted width. On Aug. 25, the evening moon appears half full in the southwest. Along the moon’s lighted left edge, the sun there is rising, lighting up the raised rims of the craters.

The large gray patches are huge lava basins, formed by asteroid impacts in the moon’s early history. Easily seen by unaided eye, these basins are comparable in size to larger U.S. states.

On Aug. 29, the moon passes underneath the bright planet Jupiter. On the next evening, the moon is to the left of the planet Saturn.

You can print out an easy-to-use current monthly sky chart by going to Telescope.com (Orion Telescope website). There you can find the monthly sky chart and print it out in black and white format. o

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