(News-Press.com) - They are the king and queen, the two brightest planetary pinpricks, two silvery glowing gateways for our imaginations. And this month, Venus and Jupiter will dance together in the same small space of sky.
You'll have to get up early for the mesmerizing marvel called a planetary conjunction, but local astronomers and other skywatchers hope Southwest Floridians will set their alarms.
Earthsky.org tells us to look eastward an hour or more before sunrise, starting in the days before mid-August. If you watch every morning, you will notice that Jupiter will edge closer and closer to our sister planet until they finally get their closest on Aug. 18.
The sun and the moon are the two brightest objects in the sky, of course, but Jupiter and Venus are close behind. Jupiter is bright because of its sheer size. This gas giant is the largest planet in the solar system and has two and a half times the mass of all the other planets combined. Venus is bright because of its close distance from the Earth and because its dense cloud cover reflects tons of incoming sunlight.
Together, these two planets will put on quite a shining show. Astronomy Central reports that the planets will be only 12 arc minutes apart, which is less than half the width of the full moon. That's under half the width of your little finger held out at arm's length.
Of course, Venus and Jupiter are really thousands and thousands of miles away from us and from each other. But in the sky, from our lonely vantage point on our dear planet Earth, we can exmaine them closely through a telescope or watch them greeting us.
And for the briefest of moments, we will believe we can reach out and touch them.
PHOTOS FROM THE HUBBLE TELESCOPE
It's time for the next installment of "Super Moon." On Sunday, the full moon will fall on the same hour as perigee. For three months in a row this year (the previous was July 12, and the next are Sunday and Sept. 9) the full moon is at the time of perigee.
Let's have a closer look at what this is all about:
The moon's orbit around the Earth is elliptical. So every month the moon will come to a point closest to the earth in its orbit and also to a point furthest from Earth in its orbit. The point closest to the earth is called perigee and the point furthest is called apogee. So, if the moon is full at perigee it becomes a super moon. That means it will be somewhat brighter than a full moon that is not at perigee and it will also appear a little larger in the sky.
The full moon will be 14 percent closer and 30 percent brighter than other full moons of the year. Can you really see this difference? The super moons of July and September fall on the day of perigee, but August's full moon falls on the exact hour of perigee!
Perigee full moons actually occur, on average, every 13 months and 18 days so these events are not that unusual. But it is still quite a sight!
One of the best meteor showers of the year, The Perseids, is approaching. The peak nights are Monday through Wednesday, but it's definitely worth having a look the week before and after those peak nights. The Perseids are bits of debris left behind from the comet Swift-Tuttle and appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus, which rises at the beginning of July around 3:30 AM.
There will be a bright moon the peak nights, but instead of thinking of the bright moon as a deterrent to the meteors, have a look at the beautiful moon with binoculars while you're out and enjoy the view of our closest neighbor.
If You Go
- What: The Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium, daily astronomy programs at 1:30 p.m., 2:15 p.m. and 3 p.m. seven days a week
- Where: 3450 Ortiz Ave., Fort Myers
- In August on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays: 1:30 Summer Stargazing, 2:15 Two Small Pieces of Glass, and 3 p.m. IBEX: Search for the Edge of the Solar System: Learn about this current NASA mission and its search for the edge of our solar system, also called the heliosphere.
- In August on Tuesdays and Fridays: 1:30 live program, Skies over Southwest Florida, 2:15 Summer Stargazing, and 3 p.m. Exploring the Milky Way Galaxy (except Friday, Aug. 29, which will follow the Mon/Wed/Thurs/Sat/Sun schedule.)
- Space Racers monthly children's program Aug. 19 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the planetarium theater. Watch a Space Racers video segment, receive instruction on the concept shown in the video, and make a craft project to take home. Free for members and $5 per child for non-members. Registration and pre-payment required. Visit spaceracers.org for more info about the new animated TV series shown on PBS every Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. and call 239-275-3435 to register your child.
- Info: 275-3435 or calusanaturecenter.org
— Carol Stewart, planetarium astronomer, Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium. Go Coastal Editor Brian Hubbard also contributed to this report.