October 23, 2017
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Voyager 1 continuing its epic journey

By Clair Wood, Special to the BDN
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Since its launch in 1977, Voyager 1 has traveled 11.5 billion miles from Earth (124 AU), visited all of the outer planets, and sent back reams of data that astronomers are still poring over. Voyager 1 is now approaching the edge of the solar system where it will enter deep space and lose any influence exerted by the Sun. Two things should happen: a drop in solar particles (solar wind) with an accompanying increase in galactic particles, and a change in the direction of the magnetic field felt by Voyager 1 as the sun’s influence is lost.

The first has happened but the second has not. Scientists believe that this means there is no clear demarcation between the solar system and deep space but a “fuzzy” area where aspects of both are influencing the spacecraft and this area is where Voyager 1 is at the moment.

When will Voyager 1 officially leave the solar system? “It may be months or it may be years,” said Edward Stone, who has been the Voyager’s project scientist since its launch. Whenever it happens Voyager 1 will likely continue its epic voyage through space for all eternity.

Focus on the planets

All of the bright, naked-eye planets are visible in August but none are situated for good observation, even by telescope.

Mercury rises in the east about an hour before sunrise as August opens and may be found among the stars of Gemini. It dips lower on the horizon each morning and will be lost in the sun’s glare by midmonth. A thin crescent moon will rise just before and above Mercury on Aug. 5.

Venus rises in the east as the sun sets but unfortunately it also sets about an hour and a half later. Look for Venus to pair up with the crescent moon situated just to its left on Aug. 10.

Mars rises in the east about an hour and a half before sunrise as the month opens. Early in August it lies close to the horizon but climbs higher in the sky each day thereafter. On Aug. 4, Mars, Mercury, and the moon form a pretty triangle in the pre-dawn sky.

Jupiter rises in the east almost two hours before the sun as August opens and a few minutes earlier during the rest of the month. On Aug. 3, Jupiter is located to the lower left of the moon with Mars and Mercury strung out below.

Saturn is high in the west-southwest at sunset making it fairly easy to spot. The ring system is still prominent and may even have the planet’s shadow reflected upon them. Look for the moon in close proximity on the 13th of the month. Neptune in Aquarius and Uranus in Pisces are high in the sky around midnight. Charts to help locate these distant planets may be found by going to skypub.com/urnep.

August events

1: Sunrise, 5:21 a.m.; sunset, 8:02 p.m. Today is Lammas, a cross-quarter day marking the midpoint between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox.

3: The moon is at apogee, or its most distant point from the Earth.

4: Use the crescent moon as a focal point in the east about 45 minutes before sunrise. To the immediate left are the twins, Castor and Pollux, while Mercury may be found to the lower left and Mars to the upper left of the moon respectively. Jupiter hovers well to the upper right of Mars.

6: New moon, 5:50 p.m.

9: Look for Venus, the “evening star,” to the upper right of the thin crescent moon on the western horizon shortly after sunset.

10: The sun enters Leo on the ecliptic.

12: Peak night for the Perseid meteor shower. This should be a very favorable year as the moon sets in midevening and the best viewing opportunities come between midnight and early dawn. The International Meteor Organization is predicting a density of 100 or more per hour of fast, bright meteors that often leave persistent trails.

14: Moon in first quarter, 6:56 a.m. Look just to the lower left of the moon to see Antares, the “Heart of Scorpius.”

19: The moon is at perigee or closest approach to Earth today.

21: Full moon, 9:44 p.m. The full moon of August is commonly known as the Sturgeon Moon but has also been called the Red Moon, Green Corn Moon and Grain Moon.

22: The sun enters the astrological sign of Virgo but astronomically is still in Leo.

28: Moon in last quarter, 5:35 a.m. Aldebaran, the “red eye” of Taurus the Bull, is to the lower left of the moon.

30: The moon is at apogee, or its most distant point from the Earth, for the second time this month.

31: Jupiter shines to the left of the moon at dawn. Sunrise, 5:56 a.m.; sunset, 7:15 p.m.

Send astronomical queries to Clair Wood at cgmewood@aol.com or care of the Bangor Daily News, Style Desk, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402.

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