Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report for Monday August 16th through Sunday the 22nd.
The moon is at first quarter on Monday August 16th so we will have a waxing gibbous moon all of this week as it heads towards full early next week. On the 17th, the moon passes through the heart of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. The bright orange star Antares will be just to the lower right of the moon that evening.
You can still catch four planets in the early evening western skies, although you'll have to be quick and have a good view of the western horizon to see Mercury which sets at 9 p.m. Venus, Mars and Saturn are still fairly close to one another, although Saturn has now moved farther to the right. Venus and Mars will be moving closer together over the course of the week and will be about 2 degrees apart at the end of the week. Venus reaches its greatest elongation east on Friday. This is the point where it is farthest from the sun from the Earth's point of view, a separation of 46 degrees.
Jupiter is rising at 9:45 p.m. and Uranus is still nearby although you will need binoculars or a telescope to see it.
The peak of the Perseid meteor shower last week showed good activity for many viewers and reached an average of two meteors a minute for some observers. A photo gallery is up on spaceweather.com
If you've received an email making the rounds that Mars will be spectacular at the end of August and you thought that it either sounded familiar or a little too good to be true, you're right! The event that the email refers to - the close approach of Mars to the Earth - occurred on August 27, 2003, but the email has continued to surface ever since. There is also a misconception in at least one version of the email that Mars would look as large as the full moon. This stems from a poorly-worded description of how Mars would look through a telescope, not to the naked eye. For Mars to look as large as the full moon in our sky, it would have to be half a million miles from the Earth, when in fact the closest Mars ever gets to us is about 34 million miles. There is a great write-up of the hoax and the real information of Mars' orbit at the blog for the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum at blog.nasm.si.edu. Look for the post from August 13, 2010.
Public viewing on the 16-in telescope at RLM and the 9-in refractor at Painter Hall has finished for the summer. Fall viewing will start in early September.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report.