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Full moon may rain on meteor shower

Without a doubt, the usual highlight for stargazing in August is the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. Unfortunately this year there will be a nearly full moon the nights and early mornings leading up to the shower's peak on Aug. 12.

Normally you would see more than 50 meteors or "shooting stars" an hour after midnight, especially in the countryside. However, the moonlight is going to whitewash the night skies, leaving most of meteors unnoticed.

Despite the Perseid’s power failure, nights are getting shorter, so you won’t have to stay up quite as late to begin your stargazing adventures. Early this month, you can still see Saturn in the low southwestern sky, but this is your last chance.

With your telescope, Saturn will appear a little fuzzy because it’s so close to the horizon and you’ll be forced to look at it through much more of the earth’s atmosphere. But it’s still fun to see Saturn’s ring system and at least some of its moons.

The summer constellations are in full bloom now in our Rochester sky, and there’s much to gaze upon. If you’re lucky enough to be in the countryside somewhat away from light pollution you’re in for a real show. Summer evenings are the best time to see the Milky Way band, a ribbon of light stretching nearly overhead from the northern to southern horizon.

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All of the stars we see in the sky are members of the Milky Way, a galaxy in the shape of a spiral disk. When you see that milky band of light, you are looking at the main plane of the Milky Way Galaxy, where most of the stars are. The rest of the stars that are outside of this Milky Way band are relatively close neighbors to our the sun and the earth.

If you follow the Milky Way band to the southern horizon, you’ll run into one of my favorite constellations, Sagittarius the Archer. Sagittarius is supposed to be a half-man-half-horse shooting an arrow, but it’s easier to see it as a teapot.

The bright Jupiter is just above the handle of the teapot this month. To the right or west of the teapot is Scorpius the Scorpion.

In the northwestern sky is the Big Dipper hanging by its handle, and the much fainter Little Dipper, with Polaris, the North Star, at the end of the handle. In the northeast is a giant "W," otherwise known as the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen. That "W" outlines a throne that Queen Cassiopeia is eternally tied to as punishment for offending Hera, the Queen of the gods of Mount Olympus.

Nearly overhead is the Summer Triangle, made up of three bright stars; Vega, Altair and Deneb. All three of these stars are the brightest in their respective constellations Lyra the Harp, Cygnus the Swan and Aquila the Evil Eagle. The Summer Triangle is a great tool to help you find these constellations and many other surrounding celestial portraits.

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