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Star of the week: Vega is the Harp Star

Sky princess Tanabata and her lover Kengyu, a mortal, meet on a bridge of magpies across the Celestial River. It's said they come together in this way each year on the 7th night of the 7th moon. Image by Anhellica via Lilliacerise's blog

One of the prettiest stories relating to Vega is popular in Asia, although there are many variations. In Japan, Vega is sometimes called Tanabata (or Orihime), a celestial princess or goddess. She falls in love with a mortal, Kengyu (or Hikoboshi), represented by the star Altair. But when Tanabata’s father finds out, he is enraged and forbids her to see this mere mortal. Thus the two lovers are placed in the sky, where they are separated by the Celestial River, known to us as Milky Way. Yet the sky gods are kind. Each year, on the 7th night of the 7th moon, a bridge of magpies forms across the Celestial River, and the two lovers are reunited. Sometimes Kengyu’s annual trip across the Celestial River is treacherous, though, and he doesn’t make it. In that case, Tanabata’s tears form raindrops that fall over Japan.

Many Japanese celebrations of Tanabata are held in July, but sometimes they are held in August. If it rains, the raindrops are thought to be Tanabata’s tears because Kengyu could not meet her. Sometimes the meteors of the Perseid shower are said to be Tanabata’s tears.

See which parts of the U.S. are losing groundwater

Image credit Chris Poulsen, National Drought Mitigation Center/University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Image credit Chris Poulsen, National Drought Mitigation Center/University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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Groundwater is the water found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock. Groundwater accounts for more than half of the U.S. drinking water and crop irrigation, and a source of recharge for lakes, rivers, and wetlands. It’s stored in geologic formations of soil, sand and rocks called aquifers.

This map was created using satellite data and ground-based measurements to model the relative amount of water stored in underground aquifers in the continental United States on July 7, 2014, compared to the average from 1948 to 2009.

Can we find aliens by looking for their pollution?

In this artist's conception, the atmosphere of an Earth-like planet displays a brownish haze - the result of widespread pollution. New research shows that the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope potentially could detect certain pollutants, specifically CFCs, in the atmospheres of Earth-sized planets orbiting white dwarf stars. Image credit: Christine Pulliam (CfA)

In this artist’s conception, the atmosphere of an Earth-like planet displays a brownish haze – the result of widespread pollution. New research shows that the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope potentially could detect certain pollutants, specifically CFCs, in the atmospheres of Earth-sized planets orbiting white dwarf stars. Image credit: Christine Pulliam (CfA)

Maybe some extra-terrestrials pollute their planets too.

Everything you need to know: Perseid meteor shower

View larger. | Meteor seen at Acadia National Park during the 2012 Perseid meteor shower.  Photo from EarthSky Facebook friend Jack Fusco Photography.  See more from Jack here.

View larger. | Meteor seen at Acadia National Park during the 2012 Perseid meteor shower. Photo from EarthSky Facebook friend Jack Fusco Photography. See more from Jack here.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the annual August Perseid meteor shower probably ranks as the all-time favorite meteor shower of the year. No matter where you live worldwide, the 2014 Perseid meteor shower will probably peak on the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13. Unfortunately, in 2014, full moon comes on August 10. And not just any full moon, but the closest supermoon of this year. Thus, on the Perseids’ peak mornings, a big and bright waning gibbous moon will obscure all but the brightest meteors. But all is not lost! It just means you need to start observing before the shower’s peak this year. Follow the links inside to learn more.

Everything you need to know: Delta Aquarid meteor shower

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The weekend of July 25-27, 2014 – and the nights after that until the moon interferes – are great for going to a dark country location to watch the long, rambling Delta Aquarid meteor shower. The shower can be seen across the entire Earth, and sky watchers in the Southern Hemisphere and northern tropics have an especially good view. The shower is officially active from about July 12 to August 23 each year. It overlaps with the more famous Perseid meteor shower in August, and those who observe the Perseids are sure to see Delta Aquarid meteors flying on the same nights. Follow the links inside to learn more.

Old moon and Mercury sit low in the dawn on July 25

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It will be a challenge to catch the slim waning crescent moon near planet Mercury in the glow of dawn on Friday morning, July 25, 2014. Look east. You’ll see the dazzling planet Venus, with the moon below. Quite close to the sunrise point the horizon, about an hour or so before sunrise, you’ll find Mercury – surprisingly bright for being so low in the sky.

Beauty! Best photos of July 24 moon and Venus

July 24 moon and Venus by Brenda Steffes.

July 24, 2014 moon and Venus by Brenda Steffes.

There was a beautiful scene in the eastern sky this morning for all who had clear skies. The waning crescent moon and Venus! These photos are just a sampling of those that came in from our friends at EarthSky Facebook. Thank you to all who posted!

How to see anticrepuscular rays

View larger. | Anticrepuscular rays - seen in the east at sunset - in Nevada.  Shreenivasan Manievannan posted this photo on EarthSky Facebook in July 2014.  Visit Shreeniclix Photography.

Anticrepuscular rays – seen in the east at sunset – in Nevada. Shreenivasan Manievannan posted this photo on EarthSky Facebook in July 2014.

Next time you see crepuscular rays or sunrays extending from the horizon … turn around. You might catch a glimpse of elusive anticrepuscular rays.

Fox takes a nap on Ottawa city bus

An OC Transpo employee made the cute discovery at a bus parking garage on Industrial Avenue in Ottawa's east end on Sunday morning.

Photo via #busfox via the Twitterverse.

This little fox was found sleeping on one of the back seats of an Ottawa city bus Sunday morning. Cute, eh? Apparently, the bus had been parked inside a garage for maintenance, and the fox got inside through an open door. Employees of the bus company couldn’t help but snap a few pics, which have been making a big splash on Twitter this week.

Nature’s roadblock to accurate seasonal hurricane forecasts

NOAA satellite image of Hurricane Mitch, the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record. Mitch caused more than 10,000 deaths across Central America.  Image via Wikimedia Commons/ NCAR.

NOAA satellite image of Hurricane Mitch, the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record. Mitch caused more than 10,000 deaths across Central America. Image via Wikimedia Commons and NCAR.

A new study from NCAR suggests that there is an internal variability in the way that hurricanes develop – minor variations in the atmosphere, too small for seasonal forecast models to capture – which can create major differences from one storm season to the next and which make accurate seasonal hurricane predictions difficult. They called it “nature’s roadblock to hurricane prediction.”