StarGazing with Jack Horkheimer is seen nationally on most PBS stations. If it is not currently on your PBS station we suggest you contact your local PBS programming director and let them know it is available free to all PBS stations. You may take any and all episodes of the program off satellite for personal use, classroom use, astronomy club use, etc. free of charge. A collection of recent "Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer" videos in RealOne format may be found here.
# 06-32 / 1496th Show
To Be Aired : Monday 8/07/2006 through Sunday 8/13/2006
"How To Watch This Weekend’s Perseid Meteor Shower Which Is Usually The Best Of The Year"
Horkheimer: Greetings, greetings fellow star gazers. I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that the Perseids the traditional best meteor shower of the year will occur this Sunday morning, but the bad news is that a four day past full Moon will be in the sky which means that its bright light will hide all but the brightest of the Perseids. But the good news again is that the Perseids frequently have very bright, very fast meteors so you may see a few. Let me show you.
O.K., we’ve got our skies set up for this Sunday morning August 13th between 3 a.m. and sunrise facing northeast and although it is summer time don’t be surprised to see some of winter’s brightest stars. To your right Orion the Hunter, Taurus the Bull, Gemini the Twins. And up to your left the dimmer stars of the mythical hero Perseus, for whom this meteor shower is named. You see meteor showers are always named for the constellation from where the meteors appear to originate. But in case you’ve forgotten what a meteor is, let me take you out in space and explain.
Meteors are simply tiny specks of comet debris, which slam into our Earth’s atmosphere and light up. You see every time a comet visits our Sun it sheds tons of debris in its path. And eventually this debris gets spread out all along the comet’s path. Now whenever our Earth plows directly into any path of comet debris these tiny pieces of debris slam into our Earth’s atmosphere. But because they plunge through our atmosphere traveling many miles per second their friction causes the atmospheric gasses surrounding them to heat up and glow making visible streaks of light. And we call these streaks of light meteors or incorrectly “falling stars”. The meteors we see during the Perseid meteor shower each August are the debris of a comet named Swift-Tuttle whose debris filled orbital path our Earth plows through every August. It is one of the oldest recorded meteor showers in history and has been seen every August for over 2000 years! Although you’ll see only the brightest ones this year because of the bright moonlight.
Take a blanket or a lawn chair outside early this Sunday morning, lie back with your feet facing northeast, then slowly scan the sky as long as possible because the longer you stay out the better your chance of seeing a few bright Perseids. And let me give you the single most important rule for observing a meteor shower, which is you must constantly scan the sky and have patience. You may see no meteors for 20 minutes or so and then all of a sudden 2 or 3 may flash by all at once. But each time you see a Perseid streak across the sky this sunday remind yourself that what you’re actually seeing is a tiny piece of comet litter plunging to its fiery death. Head for the shower! And keep looking up!
#06-33 /1497th Show
To Be Aired : Monday 8/14/2006 through Sunday 8/20/2006
"A Predawn Planet Cluster Awaits You Next Week"
Horkheimer: Greetings, greetings fellow star gazers. Next week, just before Sunrise, you’ll be able to watch Mercury, Mercury and Saturn dramatically change their positions relative to one another from morning to morning. Let me show you.
O.K., we’ve got our skies set up for Monday morning August 21st about 30 minutes before sunrise which translated means dawn. And if you look just slightly north of east you will see an exquisite 27 day old Moon which translated means an extremely slender sliver of a crescent, hovering just above brilliant planet #2 out from the Sun, 8,000 mile wide Mercury. And just below it, planet #6 but not nearly as bright as Mercury, 75,000 mile wide ringed Saturn. And just below it only one degree away which is the width of only 2 full Moons, planet # 1 from the Sun, 3,000 mile wide Mercury. Now you regular planet watchers know that all the planets change their positions in the sky every single day. But when they’re clustered close together these changes look very dramatic.
For instance if you had gone out the previous morning Sunday August 20th you would have seen that Mercury and Saturn’s positions were reversed because on Sunday Mercury was 1 degree above Saturn. So in only 24 hours Mercury changed its position relative to Saturn by 2 degrees because on Monday it is 1 degree below Saturn. But the prettiest day for viewing is on Tuesday which is a must see morning because on the 22nd an extremely, almost thin as you’ll ever see it, 28 day old crescent Moon will be parked just to the left and almost half way between Mercury and Saturn. And you’ll notice that Mercury has moved closer to Saturn, only 5 degrees away, which is 10 full Moon widths.But an even more dramatic change will occur the next morning when Mercury and Saturn will be only 4 degrees apart or 8 full Moon widths away from each other. On Thursday, 3 degrees or 6 full Moons apart and on Friday less than 2 degrees or only 4 full Moons apart. But then ta da! On Saturday and Sunday August 26th and 27th Saturn and Mercury will reach their absolute closest to each other when less than one full Moon would barely fit between them.
Once again Sunday the 20th, Mercury is one degree above Saturn, Monday the 21st. Mercury is one degree below it. Tuesday Mercury is zeroing in on Saturn and forms an exquisite picture with a 28 day old Moon. On Wednesday the 23rd the Moon and Mercury have disappeared while Mercury and Saturn close in on each other. Thursday the 24th, Friday the 25th and then ta da! Saturday and Sunday the 26th and 27th Saturn and Mercury will be less than one degree apart from each other. Wow! Now because you’ll be watching during twilight, which always makes the planets less bright than when it’s dark out, I strongly recommend you use a pair of binoculars. You know sometimes it’s good to get up with the chickens. So cock-a-doodle planet, and keep looking up!
#06-34 /1498th Show
To Be Aired : Monday 8/21/2006 through Sunday 8/27/2006
"Another Chance To Use The Moon To Find The Largest Planet And A Super Large Star"
Horkheimer: Greetings, greetings fellow star gazers. During the first week of August we had a wonderful chance to use a waxing Moon to find both the king of the planets and a giant star. But if you happened to miss them the first time, just coincidentally during the last week of August, we’ll have an almost repeat performance. Let me show you.
O.K., we’ve got our skies set up for Monday evening August 28th about an hour after sunset facing southwest where the brightest thing you’ll see will be an exquisite waxing 5 day old Moon which means that it will be growing night after night. And up to its left about 12 degrees away from it which is the width of 24 full Moons lined up end to end you’ll see a very bright light which is the king of the planets Jupiter. Now as you may recall in 24 hours time the Moon moves approximately 13 degrees or 26 times its own width toward the east. So 24 hours later on Tuesday August 29th the Moon is even fatter, 6 days old and much closer to Jupiter, only 6 degrees or 12 full Moon widths away from it and just a little bit past it. Then Wednesday the 30th the 7 day old Moon which is called first quarter Moon will be well past Jupiter and very close to the top three stars, which mark the upper portion of the letter j shaped pattern of stars we call Scorpius the Scorpion.
But the best night is yet to come because on Thursday the 31st an 8 day old Moon, or what we call one day past first quarter Moon, will be parked only one degree or 2 full Moon widths away from and right underneath the bright red star Antares, which marks the scorpion’s heart and is one of the biggest stars we can see with the naked eye. So if you’ve never been able to identify a star by its name before, on the last night of August, Thursday the 31st, the Moon will be parked smack dab right below one of the biggest of them all!
Once again, on Monday the Moon is below and to the right of the king of the planets Jupiter. On Tuesday it is much closer and just slightly past it. On Wednesday the first quarter Moon is approaching the head of the scorpion and ta da! on Thursday it’s parked right underneath its heart. So you’ll be able to use the Moon to find not only the biggest of the planets but also one of the biggest of stars. But just how big you ask? Well, Jupiter is 88,000 miles wide, so huge we could line up 44 full Moons across its middle. Antares, however, is so huge we could line up 6,880 Jupiters across it! The only reason Jupiter looks so much brighter is because it is so much closer. In fact during the last week of August Jupiter will be only 530 million miles away whereas Antares will be over 3,600 trillion miles away, so far away that it takes its light 604 years to reach us. Wow! So use the Moon to find a giant planet and a giant star. It’s easy just keep looking up!
Episode # 06-35 / 1499th Show
To Be Aired : Monday 8/28/2006 through Sunday 9/03/2006
"The Closest Full Moon Of The Year, Farthest Moon Of The Year And Use The Moon To Find Uranus"
Horkheimer: Greetings, greetings fellow star gazers. This September is very special moonwise because it pays host not only to the closest full Moon of the year but also to the farthest Moon of the year. On top of which you can use September’s full Moon to find the most difficult of all to find planets, planet #7 Uranus. Let me show you.
O.K., we’ve got our skies set up for the official night of September’s full Moon, Thursday September 7th facing east about an hour after sunset where you will see a fabulously colorful pumpkin orange huge Moon just risen above the horizon. And believe me it will be huge, not only because it is close to the horizon which makes all full Moons look bigger than when they’re overhead but also because it will be the closest full Moon of the year which will make it look almost 14% larger than the farthest full Moon of the year which occurred last February. Indeed on February 13 the Moon was a whopping 252, 332 miles away but next week’s full Moon will be over 30,000 miles closer only 222, 012 miles away.
But remember full Moons always look bigger when they’re close to the horizon than they do when they are overhead. So although next week’s full Moon will look bigger than usual even when it’s overhead, nevertheless, it will look its very biggest when it’s either rising Thursday evening or setting Friday morning.
On top of which, if you have a pair of binoculars, you can use the full Moon to find the dimmest naked eye planet of them all, 32,000 mile wide Uranus, which just coincidentally next week will be at its closest to Earth for the year, only one and 3/4 billion, miles away. In early evening simply train your binoculars on the Moon and bluish green Uranus will be a tiny dot 7 degrees or 14 full Moon widths up and to the right of it. You’ll have to look carefully though because the bright moonlight will be rather overwhelming.
Now some of you may be thinking that since it’s September this full Moon should be the Harvest Moon because usually September’s full Moon is. But this year is an exception. The Harvest Moon this year will not occur until next month October 6th. You see the official definition of a Harvest Moon is the full Moon that occurs closest to the first day of autumn, the autumnal equinox. This year the autumnal equinox occurs at 12:03 a.m., E.D.T. September 23rd, which means that October’s full Moon is 35 hours closer to the equinox than September’s. But next week’s full Moon will be just as beautiful as any September full Moon, Harvest Moon or not.
So what about September hosting the farthest Moon of the year? Well it occurs on the day before the equinox, the 22nd when the Moon will be new and a whopping 252, 586 miles from Earth. But since it’s a new Moon it means it’s not visible so you wouldn’t know about it unless we told you. So, have fun with next week’s super close full Moon, use it to find Uranus and keep looking up!