Monday, August 18, 2008


The solar eclipse of August 1 -- just a nibble out of the Sun here in Ireland, but even a nibble can be fun. The Perseid meteor shower of August 11-13 -- with a ZHR (zenithal hourly rate) of upwards of 100. The partial lunar eclipse of August 16 -- about 80 percent shadowed. A washout! All of it! The summer has been historically bad. Since we arrived in June, we have enjoyed one clear night. Oh, occasionally Jupiter has played peek-a-boo through the clouds, out there on the southern horizon, but on the whole the big, bright planet has proved as elusive as Bigfoot.

In An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, I say of summer: "Again the Milky Way arches high overhead, and the second act of the celestial drama begins -- brilliant stars and constellations afloat in a stream of galactic light." Har! The only stream we have seen this summer is rainwater sloshing down off the hill.

So what's a skywatcher to do? Curl up by the fire with Guy Ottwell's Astronomical Calendar 2008. Watch in my mind's eye that dot of darkness creep down across Siberia on August 1. Count in my imagination those meteors flashing out of the northeastern sky on August 12. Close my eyes and watch the Moon rise spooky red on August 16. Somewhere I once wrote that skywatching is 20 percent vision and 80 percent imagination. Around here, this summer, it is imagination or nothing.