Last Thursday, August 6th, was the middle of astronomical summer in the Northern Hemisphere, halfway between the June solstice and the September equinox. Coincidentally, it was also the first night when it became fully dark before my nominal 10 p.m. bedtime. Here are the crucial times:
Thursday, Aug 6
Sunset 8:07, End civil twilight 8:38, end nautical twilight 9:16, end astronomical twilight 9:59, moonrise 10:03
Days are getting shorter now at a good clip; astronomical twilight will occur earlier two minutes per evening all the way to September, at which point the pace will accelerate even more. Here are the times for tonight:
Monday, Aug 10
Sunset 8:01, end civ twilight 8:32, end naut twilight 9:10, end astro twilight 9:51, moonrise 11:34
Note that moonrise is getting later at the disappointingly slow rate of 22.5 minutes per evening, due to the "Harvest Moon effect." The angle of the ecliptic is very shallow in the evening -- as you can see by the low altitude of Jupiter and Saturn, then near the ecliptic's highest point. So while the Moon progresses along the ecliptic at its statutory 13 degrees per evening, its altitude at sunset doesn't change accordingly. Oh well, beggars can't be choosers.
It's been a strange summer in terms of weather. Distinctly hotter than normal -- though perhaps this is the new normal, who knows? Pretty dry in most of the Northeast, but just about average here on the windward slope of the Taconic Range, which separates New York from New England. Clouds have been totally unpredictable, which is a bit of an obstacle to planning. Evening after evening, the forecast has been something like "partly or mostly cloudy with a chance of showers," and then the clouds end up clearing off in the early evening. So instead of planning what I'm going to do, I tend to end up just going outside and seeing what happens. It's a big change from a couple of decades ago, when I was working fiercely on a bunch of separate projects.
Two nights ago I took out my 7-inch Dob to view Jupiter and Saturn (who can resist?) and show them to some cousins who live in the next house down the hill. After that, I spent the entire next hour until moonrise just sitting in my chair and blissing out, not even doing naked-eye observing in any directed way. I did one token observation of M11 and its vicinity (one of my faves) just to prove that there was a reason for the telescope; otherwise it sat there unused.
I just sat there, soaingk in the sounds of the crickets and (unbelievably loud) tree frogs, the usual barred owls and coyotes, the train whistle in the distance, the occasional truck rumbling by two miles away on U.S. Route 20. Dogs barking at each other across the neighboring hills, and sometimes joining in with the coyotes. The occasional radio blaring faintly out of a distant house or car window. I hear a car coming up the hill; will it continue on past our house or turn off at the junction down by the brook?
Last night it was cloudy when I went to bed, but I was restless, so I got up to do some reading and have a cup of cocoa. Looked outside and not a cloud in the sky, so rushed out to set up a lounge chair and browse around with my 2x54 and 10x50 binoculars. It's a great time of year to do that. Then I watched the Milky Way fade away (though not entirely) as the waning gibbous Moon rose, and went to bed after a quick look at the Moon -- red in the humid air -- through the binoculars. Temperatures in the 60s, what's not to like? Insects of all kinds are thinning out dramatically, though there's still the odd mosquito around to annoy me.
For the record, M11 is visible through 2x54 binoculars, but not exactly a joy to look at. Oh, and I worked out a new, highly reliable way to locate M39, which for some reason always tends to perplex me, possibly because there are not too few but too many stars to navigate by. All in all, a good night in a laid-back, aimless way.
Even though I'm a deep-sky observer at heart, solar-system objects sure do change the feel of things! July was dominated by splendid Comet NEOWISE, and having Jupiter and Saturn side by side is a total treat at every conceivable level. I'm very much looking forward to my first really good views of Mars for many years in early autumn.