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July, a month of astronomical shows

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 14 jul 2020, 6:03 por Plataforma Sites Dgac   [ actualizado el 5 oct 2020, 5:09 ]
Living in quarantine for months due to the Covid-19 pandemic is certainly not easy. Lack of freedom, social contact, and anxiety and anguish caused by prolonged confinement are felt. However, here the greatest good is the health of all Chileans and that is why we must be cautious and follow the advice of the health authorities.
An artist's rendering of a meteor shower, as the Perseids shower.

José Utreras, astronomer at the Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences of the University of Chile and popularizer at the CATA Astrophysics Center.

Comet Neowise, which passes near Earth once each 6,800 years, will be visible from the Southern Hemisphere from July 22 on.

One of Google's Loon balloons, which are often mistaken for UFOs.
Despite all the restrictions, we still have access to beautiful natural phenomena that can literally be happening above our heads without our even knowing it. In July, two celestial phenomena could offer us the possibility of enjoying the wonders of the Universe and completely free. 

Meteor shower 

Between July 17 and August 24, an annual phenomenon known as the “Perseid shower” will take place, which are meteorites that, from Earth, seem to come from the constellation of Perseus and that upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere and falling are perceived as shooting stars. 

The “star shower” is also known as “Tears of Saint Lawrence”, because the date on which it is visible usually coincides with August 10, which corresponds to that name day. 

“Maximum visibility is around August 12th. However, from most of the territory of Chile at this time of year, (the constellation of) Perseus is, in general, below the horizon or very close to the horizon, so it is difficult to see it”, explains José Utreras, astronomer at the Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences of the University of Chile and popularizer at the CATA Astrophysics Center. 

“From Arica, at around five in the morning, the place from which you can see this meteor shower, the Perseids, has an altitude of about 12 degrees above the horizon. So in places well to the North you could see this meteor shower”, he added. 

The phenomenon is produced by the rocky material that is left by comets on their way around the Sun, which remains floating in the shape of a ring and enters the Earth’s orbit attracted by the force of gravity when our planet orbits around the Sun. 

Then, some of these rocky fragments fall to the Earth and when they become incandescent due to the effect of the friction, they are perceived from the ground as shooting stars. 

Millennial traveler 

Another surprise that the month of July has in store for us is the passing of a true millennial traveler, comet Neowise, which was first observed by astronomers in 2016 and is named after the NASA telescope that discovered it. 

According to scientists, it is a celestial body that passes in the vicinity of the Earth only once every 6,800 years, so we can observe it now or never. The last time it was close to our planet it was probably seen by ancient people. 

“The relevance it has is that since comets are so infrequent, this becomes a particularly special phenomenon. Because you can study how comets are affected by radiation from the Sun and see if they could be destroyed”, said José Utreras. 

“There was some expectation that this comet could be destroyed on its way to the Sun by losing a lot of gas, which is ice that is sublimating. But, apparently, it has not happened”, he added. Comets are made up of ice, dust, and rocks. 

However, the astronomer from the University of Chile warns that it is very unlikely that comet Neowise can be seen with the naked eye. 

“It is currently lowering its brightness and will begin to be seen in the Southern Hemisphere from July 22. At the end of the month you will be able to see it better, because when it’s very close to the Sun you can only see it at dusk or dawn, depending on where you are” Utreras said. 

“It will be visible at sunset, around six in the afternoon. The problem is that as it is not so bright, it will compete with the brightness of the sky, so you have to have special equipment in order to see it”, he warned. 

Comet Neowise’s closest point of approach to Earth will be on July 23, when it will be about 103 million kilometers away. 

Satellites and balloons 

In addition to the daily passage of satellites from the Starlink constellation from Elon Musk's aerospace company SpaceX, which are often thought to be unidentified flying objects (UFOs) by observers, it is possible that in the coming weeks project Loon balloons from Google fly over Chilean territory and generate UFO reports. 

This has happened several times in recent months, but thanks to the technology currently available, CEFAA can quickly determine when a UFO report corresponds to one of these artifacts. 

At the moment, there are three Loon balloons flying between Peru and Ecuador, but the artifacts sometimes fly through the skies over the southern cone, including Argentina and Chilean airspace, which is the responsibility of the General Directorate of Civil Aeronautics (DGAC).