Starwatch: July 30August opens with Lammas, or the festival of loaves, an ancient Celtic celebration of the season’s first harvest. The August 1 holiday was one of four cross-quarter days falling midway between a solstice and an equinox.
By: Deane Morrison, University of Minnesota, Lake County News Chronicle
August opens with Lammas, or the festival of loaves, an ancient Celtic celebration of the season’s first harvest. The August 1 holiday was one of four cross-quarter days falling midway between a solstice and an equinox.
The Celts divided the year into light and dark halves, with the switch-overs happening on the dates we call Halloween and May Day. By this reckoning, Lammas marks the halfway point in the light half of the year, an occasion to rejoice in its bounty. Its opposite is Imbolc, or lamb’s milk, on Feb. 2, which we now know as Groundhog Day.
This year August holds two aces up its sleeve: very favorable conditions for the Perseid meteor shower and a close gathering of planets in the west. Look for the Perseids after 10 p.m. the nights of the 11th, 12th and 13th; this year, no moon will be around to interfere. Perseids tend to be fast and bright, with many leaving persistent trails. They radiate from a point in the northern constellation Perseus, which rises about 90 minutes after sunset.
These meteors represent the paths of dust left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, most notably during its 1862 appearance. As Earth hurtles through the dust cloud, numerous specks burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, producing the fireballs we all love to watch.
All month long, Venus, the brightest of planets, puts on a show – with a little help from its friends. On the 9th, look to the west as the sky darkens to see Venus pass Saturn. Moving eastward, Venus catches up with Mars on the 19th; these two planets then close in on the bright star Spica in Virgo. They will form a tight group the 30th and 31st.
In the east, Jupiter begins the month by rising as the western planets are setting, but it appears earlier every night.
The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Duluth Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium: www.d.umn.edu/planet