Paul E. Anna: High Points
August 15, 2008
While many of us have been basking by the high-definition glow of our television screens, watching the Olympic games each evening, the night sky has been putting on a gold-medal display of its own. Those who have been out and about have been witness to some celestial events that are worth the price of admission. Free.
For the initiated, the show has begun shortly after sunset each evening in the western sky. This entire week there has been what is known as a planetary conjunction. Tonight, for those who look to the west just after sunset, there will be an opportunity to see a triple planetary conjunction.
Venus and Saturn and Mercury will line up in a planetary spectacle not often seen. Venus will be the brightest planet, and it will be positioned slightly above and to the south of Saturn. A little lower on the horizon, so perhaps a little later after dusk, Mercury will emerge. That’s three planets for the price of one.
The Perseid meteor shower also still is raining dust in the night sky this week. Though the peak of the bright display of meteors which can produce as many as 60 streaking lights an hour, and was early Tuesday morning, there will still be meteors streaking the across the early morning skies for another week or so. If you are lucky enough to be camping away from the bright lights of Ute City, you are very likely to witness a show from the cloud dust that is generated by the Swift Tuttle Comet.
Eat my dust is the operative phrase.
And, of course, if you are able to pry yourself away from Bob Costas and Michael Phelps long enough to go outside there is a distinct probability of witnessing a spectacular moonrise this weekend as well. The full moon, which in August is referred to as the Sturgeon Moon (no, not Sturgis, though it would be a great night for a midnight run on a Harley) rises on Saturday evening. True, it will shine bright enough to reduce some of the other celestial goings on, but it will be beautiful none-the-less. If you are camping it may be bright enough to read by. It was given the name Sturgeon Moon by Indians in the Great Lakes region who would fish for the giant sturgeon under the full moon. For those who are completely consumed by Chinese culture this week, the August Moon Festival is a widely celebrated Chinese holiday that comes on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month (the 15th of August) and is traditionally the time for a family feast. Think Thanksgiving.
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The local traditional delicacy served after dinner at the August Moon Festival are Mooncakes ” sweet, round pastries filled with lotus seed or bean paste. According to Chinese lore the cakes were used by Ming revolutionaries during the Yuen Dynasty to pass on secret messages within the cakes as they attempted to overthrow the Mongolians. Can’t wait to see if Bob Costas breaks into one on Saturday.