The annual Perseid meteor shower is one of the most popular because it happens on warm summer nights, when gazing at the starry sky is always enjoyable. This year the Perseids will peak on the night of Aug. 12-13. Unfortunately the moon will be full just one day before that, so moonlight will strongly interfere with observing meteors. Even in a clear dark sky only the brightest meteors will be visible.
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The shorter nights of summer will still offer a variety of events for skywatchers, with all five major planets on display.
The five planets visible with the naked eye will be on display from east to south along the horizon at dawn on June 4. They will appear in the same sequence in the sky as in their orbits around the sun. From left to right, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will form an arc spanning 91 degrees. It's been about 100 years since a similarly compact group of planets marched across our sky, and there won't be such a gathering again until 2041.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A total eclipse of the moon lasting 85 minutes will be the highlight of May for skywatchers. In the Midwest, the full moon will rise on the evening of May 15-16 with the eclipse already beginning. Observers on the East Coast will see the entire eclipse in a dark sky. On the West Coast, the total eclipse will begin in evening twilight and continue in a dark sky.
Four bright planets will be strung out in a row above the east-southeastern horizon 45 minutes before sunrise on April 18. Evenly spaced from left to right will be Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn in a line nearly 32 degrees long.
Venus will be the first planet to appear in the morning sky during March, rising two hours before the sun and dazzling 20 degrees high in the southeast a half hour before dawn.
Mars will join Venus in the morning sky, much fainter and glowing a dull orange. The Red Planet will start the month 9 degrees southwest of Venus, and by Feb. 12 it will be 6 degrees south of the brilliant white planet. The two planets will remain roughly this distance apart as they cross the constellation Sagittarius.
As the new year begins, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, and Venus will form a straight line 40 degrees long in the southwestern sky a half hour after sunset. In a single view you'll be able to see four of the five bright naked-eye planets! Jupiter will be highest, about 20 degrees above yellow Saturn. Venus will be lowest, near the horizon.
Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter will be on display in the evening sky soon after sunset at the start of December.
Venus will be visible within half an hour after sunset, low and bright in the southwest. The brilliant white planet will cross the broad expanse of the Milky Way during the first two weeks of the month. Venus will be just 3 degrees south of the Lagoon Nebula on Nov. 6 , a fine target for astrophotographers.
Mercury will make its best morning appearance of the year during the last two weeks of October. The smallest planet will pass closest to the sun on Oct. 8 and then appear in the morning sky.
The two giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, will be well placed for viewing during September. Saturn will be first to appear, standing 14 degrees high in the southeast at sunset. Jupiter will follow Saturn across the sky 18 degrees farther east in the constellation Capricornus. Both planets will be best viewed from 10 p.m. onward when they will be high in the south, bright and large enough for detailed viewing with telescopes.
The annual Perseid meteor shower is one of the most popular every year because it happens on warm summer nights, when gazing at the starry sky is always enjoyable. This year the Perseid shower will peak on the night of Aug. 12-13. The moon will set around 10:30 p.m. local time, providing ideal conditions for observing meteors. In a clear dark sky as many as 60 meteors per hour may be visible.
On July 11 Venus and Mars will be less than 1 degree apart low in the western sky in the constellation Leo. Venus will be about 1 degree north of Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, on July 21. Mars will pass near Regulus on July 28 and 29.
Venus will be the first planet to appear after sunset in June. This brilliant "evening star" will be low in the western sky but still bright enough to see easily in the glow of twilight on June 1. It will remain visible until nearly 10 p.m. local time. As the month passes, Venus will drift across the constellation Gemini the Twins until it is about 6 degrees below the constellation's bright stars Castor and Pollux on June 24.
Mercury and Venus will be visible above the western horizon soon after sunset this month in the constellation Taurus the Bull. This will be Mercury's best evening display of the year. On May 2 the small planet will be less than 3 degrees below the Pleiades star cluster, a fine sight in 7x50 binoculars. Mercury will reach its greatest separation from the sun on May 17, when it will be 22 degrees from the solar disk