Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.
What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: August 9-15, 2021
This is a special week for stargazing. First up we have a couple of nights where a beautiful slim crescent Moon slips past bright planet Venus low in the west after dark.
Then comes the Perseid meteor shower, which is predicted to be spraying shooting stars at us in the very early hours of Thursday and Friday. This week also sees the first seasonal rise of Sirius, also known as the “Dog Star.”
Here’s everything you need to know about looking up this week:
Tuesday, August 10, 2021: A crescent Moon and Venus
Tonight brings a real treat. Look low to the west just after sunset and you’ll see a wondrous sight—a 5%-lit crescent Moon a mere 4° from the bright planet Venus.
As it gets darker you’ll likely also notice “Earthshine” illuminate the Moon’s dark limb—sunlight reflected from the Earth back on to the Moon.
To see it you’ll need an unobstructed horizon. A reasonably large park should do it as long as there aren’t many big trees or buildings in the vicinity.
It will look almost as good tomorrow night, too:
Tuesday, August 10, 2021: Cargo flight to the ISS
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island will today, at 5:55 p.m. EDT, see a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket launch a Cygnus spacecraft on its 16th cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station. It will screen live on NASA TV and YouTube.
Experiments onboard include 3D printing in space using rock and soil like that found on the Moon, how slime molds’ behavior is affected by microgravity and a new spacecraft carbon dioxide removal technology that could help future explorers on the Moon and Mars breathe more easily.
Wednesday, August 11, 2021: the heliacal rising of Sirius
Just before sunrise today you’ll be able to look to the east-southeast and see the first appearance from mid-northern latitudes of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.
Today is known as its “heliacal rising.” It was once thought that the rise of Sirius explained the extra heat of summer, hence the phase “the dog days of summer.”
Thursday, August 12, 2021: Perseid meteor shower
The year’s best meteor shower strikes in the early hours of today when about 100 shooting stars could be visible in dark, moonless country skies. You’ll not see that many, but if you get under reasonably dark country skies you’ll likely see 15-20 or so in a couple of hours.
How? Look at the night sky and keep looking! Put that smartphone away … it will distract you and completely ruin your dark-adapted eyes. Be sure to look tomorrow night, too, because the actual peak is during the day, so which night is “best” is debatable and depends on your exact location.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.
5 planets align in night sky for first time in years – CTV News
A rare, five-planet alignment will peak on June 24, allowing a spectacular viewing of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn as they line up in planetary order.
The event began at the beginning of June and has continued to get brighter and easier to see as the month has progressed, according to Diana Hannikainen, observing editor of Sky & Telescope.
A waning crescent moon will be joining the party between Venus and Mars on Friday, adding another celestial object to the lineup. The moon will represent the Earth’s relative position in the alignment, meaning this is where our planet will appear in the planetary order.
This rare phenomenon has not occurred since December 2004, and this year, the distance between Mercury and Saturn will be smaller, according to Sky & Telescope.
HOW TO VIEW THE ALIGNMENT
Stargazers will need to have a clear view of the eastern horizon to spot the incredible phenomenon, Hannikainen said. Humans can view the planetary show with the naked eye, but binoculars are recommended for an optimal viewing experience, she added.
The best time to view the five planets is in the one hour before sunrise, she said. The night before you plan to view the alignment, check when the sun will rise in your area.
Some stargazers are especially excited for the celestial event, including Hannikainen. She flew from her home west of Boston to a beachside town along the Atlantic Ocean to secure an optimal view of the alignment.
“I’ll be out there with my binoculars, looking towards the east and southeast and crossing all my fingers and toes that it is going to be clear,” Hannikainen said.
You don’t have to travel to catch a glimpse of the action because it will be visible to people around the globe.
Stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere can see the planets from the eastern to southeastern horizon while those in the Southern Hemisphere should look along the eastern to northeastern horizon. The only requirement is a clear sky in the direction of the alignment.
By the next day, the moon will have continued its orbit around the Earth, moving it out of alignment with the planets, she said.
If you miss the five-planet alignment in sequential order, the next one will happen in 2040, according to Sky & Telescope.
There will be seven more full moons in 2022, according to The Old Farmers’ Almanac:
- June 14: Strawberry moon
- July 13: Buck moon
- Aug. 11: Sturgeon moon
- Sept. 10: Harvest moon
- Oct. 9: Hunter’s moon
- Nov. 8: Beaver moon
- Dec. 7: Cold moon
These are the popularized names associated with the monthly full moons, but the significance of each one may vary across Native American tribes.
LUNAR AND SOLAR ECLIPSES
There will be one more total lunar eclipse and a partial solar eclipse in 2022, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Partial solar eclipses occur when the moon passes in front of the sun but only blocks some of its light. Be sure to wear proper eclipse glasses to safely view solar eclipses, as the sun’s light can be damaging to the eye.
A partial solar eclipse on Oct. 25 will be visible to those in Greenland, Iceland, Europe, northeastern Africa, the Middle East, western Asia, India and western China. Neither of the partial solar eclipses will be visible from North America.
A total lunar eclipse will also be on display for those in Asia, Australia, the Pacific, South America and North America on Nov. 8 between 3:01 a.m. ET and 8:58 a.m. ET — but the moon will be setting for those in eastern regions of North America.
Check out the remaining 11 showers that will peak in 2022:
- Southern delta Aquariids: July 29-30
- Alpha Capricornids: July 30-31
- Perseids: Aug. 11-12
- Orionids: Oct. 20-21
- Southern Taurids: Nov. 4-5
- Northern Taurids: Nov. 11-12
- Leonids: Nov. 17-18
- Geminids: Dec. 13-14
- Ursids: Dec. 21-22
If you live in an urban area, you may want to drive to a place that isn’t littered with city lights to get the best view.
Find an open area with a wide view of the sky. Make sure you have a chair or blanket so you can look straight up. And give your eyes about 20 to 30 minutes — without looking at your phone or other electronics — to adjust to the darkness so the meteors will be easier to spot.
June 25: The Quirks & Quarks listener question show – CBC.ca
We end our season with our ever-popular, always riveting Quirks & Quarks Listener Question Show.
Evelyn Campbell in Vancouver, British Columbia asks: If you were out in space and died, would your body decompose?
For the answer we reached out to Daryl Haggard, an astronomer in the Department of Physics at McGill University and the McGill Space Institute. She explained there aren’t any microbes in space that would act to decompose your body, although it would persist in a ‘freeze-dried’ state.
Bernie Buzik from Wainwright, Alberta asks: Why are there concentrations of metals in some areas and not others around the world? Basically — why is there not a concentration of gold in my backyard?
For the answer we turned to Peter Hollings, an NOHFC Industrial Research Chair in Mineral Exploration in the Department of Geology at Lakehead University. He says that where minerals get deposited depends on complex geological processes, and which metals collect in which places has to do with the physical and chemical conditions particular to those substances, which result in concentrations of different metals in different parts of the world.
Bob Ennenberg from Vancouver, B.C. asks: Why can’t the immune system get rid of the herpes viruses like it can with other viruses?
According to Jennifer Corcoran, a virologist at the University of Calgary, herpes viruses have a unique ability to hide from the immune system, whether it’s the chickenpox virus that can later manifest as shingles or one of the herpes simplex viruses that cause recurring mouth or genital sores. Until some kind of stress triggers their reactivation, the viruses essentially remain invisible by not making viral proteins that would otherwise alert the immune system to their presence.
Bill Yates from Lethbridge, Alta. asks: If space is at absolute zero, and the Earth has been racing through it for millions of years, how does the centre of the Earth maintain its heat to remain molten?
There are two reasons why the Earth’s core remains molten under these conditions according to Jesse Rogerson, an astronomer and astrophysicist from York University in Toronto. One is that heat does not escape the planet because the geological plates that cover the surface act as a giant insulating blanket. And the other reason is that the decay or radioactive elements within the Earth provides a constant source of heat.
Sheena Sharp in Toronto, Ontario asks: Why is poop brown in most animals, but white in birds?
For the answer we asked Emma Allen-Vercoe, a professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Guelph. She says it comes down to how birds get rid of waste. They only have one waste oriface, called a cloaca, and their equivalent of pee is a white pasty substance. They mostly excrete their poop and pee at the same time, all mixed up in one gross mess.
Doug McDougall, an expat Canadian living in Newcastle, California asks: I watched [the documentary] “The Octopus Teacher” a while ago and I was just really curious: what possible evolutionary advantage can there be to having this animal only laying one batch of eggs before they self-destruct?
To find out why octopus mothers die soon after laying her eggs, we went to Stefan Linquist, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph who specializes in ecology and genomics and has an interest in octopuses. He said female octopuses stop hunting and eating in order to protecting their eggs from predators and give them best chance of surviving into adulthood, maximizing the chance that her lineage will survive.
James Schoening from Vancouver, B.C. asks: Animations for the new James Webb Space Telescope show that it’s orbiting an empty point in space called the Lagrange 2 Point. How can it do this if there is no actual mass there to gravitationally attract it?
To help explain this far out question, we went to Nathalie Ouellette, an astrophysicist at the University of Montreal and the outreach scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope in Canada. She said to imagine spacetime in the solar system as a big rubber sheet with a big dip in the middle for the Sun and another for Earth that follows its groove all the way around the Sun. The Lagrange points are like flat areas on that rubber sheet where an object like the telescope can stay, like a parking spot in space.
Bill Bean from Kitchener, Ont. asks: The lack of memory of our first years of life is explained, by some, as infantile amnesia. Yet many things learned in this period, like how to speak and how to walk, are not forgotten. Why are some toddler events wiped clean from memory?
We spoke with Myra Fernandes, a professor in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Waterloo. She says the main theory is that the hippocampus, which is where memories are stored, just isn’t developed enough to consolidate memories at that age. Also, at that age the brain is primed to learn through repetition, like how we learn to walk and talk, rather than preserving unique details from a single event.
Elva Kellington from Salt Spring Island, B.C. asks: Is there any similarity in the spinning water around a drain when the plug is pulled, a hurricane and the rotating stars around the black hole in our Milky Way galaxy?
For this mind twister, we spoke with Hari Kunduri, a mathematician at Memorial University of Newfoundland who’s moving to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He said the angular momentum of each of these systems remains constant, so just as spinning figure skaters speed up when they pull in their arms, the material spinning around the central axis in these systems also speeds up the closer it gets to the point it’s spinning around.
Anna-Marie Weiler in Ottawa, Ont. asks: Humans have a coccyx, also known as a vestigial tail. Did we once have a tail, and if so, when did we lose it?
Caroline Parins-Fukuchi from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto explains that the coccyx is part of our tail bone, which is really a tail, just a short one. We need to go back at least 20 million years to find a common ancestor of all apes, including us, with traditional long tail.
(Online and podcast only)
Jane Sly from Ottawa, Ont. asks: How much protection from concussions can we get from helmets?
For the answer, we went to Blaine Hoshizaki, the director of the University of Ottawa’s Neurotrauma Impact Science Laboratory. He says traditional rigid foam cycling helmets were only designed to break apart upon impact to prevent catastrophic brain injuries, not concussions, unlike today’s hockey and football helmets that tend to have softer interior materials with some degree of concussion protection.
NASA determines Space Launch System testing complete – Yahoo Canada Finance
The testing campaign for NASA’s super big, super expensive Space Launch System is now complete, the agency declared on Friday. All that’s left now for the rocket is launch the Artemis I demonstration mission to the moon, the first in a long line of planned missions to eventually return humans to the lunar surface by the middle of the decade. The launch could occur as soon as late August, NASA officials said.
The agency will roll the 322-foot-tall rocket and Orion spacecraft back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, an assembly hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, on July 1 or 2, where both will be prepared for launch. From there, the agency will have roughly six to eight weeks of work before what should be the final roll-out, John Blevins, chief engineer of the Space Launch System Program, said Friday. Once SLS is back on the launch pad, officials would spend around 10-14 days preparing for liftoff, Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager for exploration ground systems, added.
NASA declared the “wet dress rehearsal” (WDR), as the slew of tests is called, complete despite a hydrogen leak issue that caused launch controllers to halt the countdown at T-29 seconds (officials aimed to count down to T-9.34 seconds, right before engine ignition).
The leak was detected in the hydrogen bleed line during the propellant loading process, when hundreds of thousands of gallons of cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen were being loaded into the tanks. But despite the leak issues, the agency was able to load both rocket stages’ tanks with propellant, then drain them — major testing pieces that the agency had yet to put into place.
SLS testing checklist. Image Credits: NASA (opens in a new window)
While officials did not give an exact launch date, Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for common exploration systems development, said things are looking good for an end of August timeframe.
“We feel getting through the wet dress was a major milestone for us,” he said. “It gives us some confidence that we’re still on a good path.”
The inaugural launch of SLS this year would be 12 years in the making. It was originally envisioned by Congress and NASA as a replacement to the Space Shuttle. It is now designated as the launch system that will eventually return humans to the moon — no small honor, all things considered.
5 planets align in night sky for first time in years – CTV News
June 25: The Quirks & Quarks listener question show – CBC.ca
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