'Phosphorus and Hesperus' Evelyn Pickering de Morgan 1882 {{PD-Art}}

‘Phosphorus and Hesperus’ Evelyn Pickering de Morgan 1882 {{PD-Art}}

Venus as the Evening Star will brighten considerably between now and December, when she reaches maximum brilliancy at magnitude -4.9 (the lower the number, the brighter the object, with negative numbers the brightest). She’s designated the Evening Star right now (though at other times she’s the Morning Star) and is most visible just after sunset. The ancient Greeks actually saw her as two separate bodies, Phosphoros (‘Bringer of Light’) or Eosphorus (‘Bringer of Dawn’) and Hesperos (‘Evening Light’), until they eventually accepted the Babylonian assertion that what they were observing was really only one body, appearing different depending on her relationship to the Sun. Saturn, too, is visible at present, near the long handle of the Big Dipper and near Spica; Saturn can be distinguished by its golden hue, while Spica shines blue-white, like a good diamond. While Venus and Saturn can be seen evenings all through August, the morning sky shows, pre-sunrise, Mars, Jupiter, and Mercury (the latter for the first week or two of August, depending on your spot on Earth). Happy planet spotting!

We have our yearly show of the Perseids this month, peaking on the 11th, 12th, and 13th. This meteor ‘shower’ is really the debris from comet Swift-Tuttle, lighting up as it burns through the atmosphere; we (Earth) actually pass through the comet’s trail, making for a collision between our atmosphere and debris shed by this extraordinarily large comet (its nucleus is about 16 miles/ 26 kilometers across, where most others are only a few kilometers). Visibility actually began this year around 17 July, so if you’ve been out and about at night you may have observed a ‘shooting star’ or two that were probably part of this group, and the Perseids are known for the high number of ‘fireballs’ seen; the Perseids remain visible (but are seen with less frequency) through 24 August.