For the August edition of “Gateway to the Stars,” we’ll have a special preview of the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory rover (Curiosity), which takes place the very next day, and we’ll have a good look at the summer skies!
When Curiosity touches down on the Martian landscape (hopefully it’s a soft landing!), you’ll be able to see the planet in our sky just an hour or so before. If you look to the west soon after twilight, Mars will form a beautiful triangle with the planet Saturn and blue-white star Spica (the brightest star in Virgo). While Mars won’t look like much in a telescope right now (it’s over 150 million miles away), it will be getting the most attention of any planet in the solar system for a while. Assuming Curiosity survives the landing, a whole new set of eyes and experiments will be roaming the reddish landscape. We even have a show dedicated to revealing the discoveries of Curiosity called “Dateline Mars,” which runs Tue-Thur-Sat at 6:45 pm until at least August 11.
Aside from the Mars event, we’ll have plenty of summer sky objects to marvel at with our eyes, binoculars and telescopes. The Summer Triangle is a great guidepost now as it climbs high into the eastern sky. Each bright star represents the “alpha” of its own constellation – Vega in Lyra the Lyre, Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, and Altair in Aquila the Eagle. We’ll do some star hopping to locate other constellations and deep sky wonders like star clusters and nebulae, such as the “Lagoon Nebula” in Sagittarius.
And don’t forget about the famous annual Perseid Meteor Shower! This year the peak occurs on August 12 but the Perseids put on a show over the course of several nights. Starting August 10, watch from late evening into the early morning hours (before the moon rises). Yellow colored streaks emanating from the northeast will the tell tale signs of the Perseids.
Come and learn how to view some of the best deep sky objects of the summer! “Gateway” starts at 6:45 pm Saturday, August 4 in the Hansen Dome Theatre.