David L. Richards

The first of August finds brilliant Jupiter rising at 2 a.m., followed by an even brighter Venus, rising at 3:10 a.m.

Jupiter resides in the Hyades, a star cluster in Taurus below the more conspicuous Pleiades. Venus and the waning crescent moon are separated by 4 degrees at 5 a.m. Aug. 13.

On the 15th and 16th, Mercury is within 7 degrees of a slim sliver of the waning crescent moon. You will probably need binoculars to spot the nearly new moon.

From Aug. 16 to 20, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter form a line across the eastern dawn horizon about 5:20 a.m. Thereafter, Mercury gets lost in the sun’s glare.

August evenings bring out Saturn and Mars approaching the southwest horizon. As August progresses, Mars slides south below Saturn, traveling across 20 degrees of the night sky over the month. About 9:30 p.m. Aug. 21, Mars, Saturn, the waxing crescent moon and Spica (the brightest star in Virgo) are all within 7 degrees, just filling the field of a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars.

Uranus can be seen with the unaided eye right in the east on Thursday, 6 degrees above the horizon. At 11:30 that night, place Uranus at the 12 o’clock position in a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars, and you will see the asteroid Pallas at 10 o’clock, about 3 magnitudes dimmer than Uranus.

Pallas was the second asteroid discovered, by astronomer Heinrich Olbers in 1802. One of the largest asteroids at about 351 miles in diameter, Pallas makes up fully 7 percent of the mass of all of the asteroids.

The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the nights of Aug. 11 and 12, revealing up to 60 meteors an hour. The waning crescent moon should not pose much of a problem for this reliable display.


Q: What is the big deal about the Higgs boson? — R.K., Akron.

A: I got it down to about 200 words: The current model of particle physics fittingly explains the existence and interactions of particles that make up the matter and radiation of our world. The model, though, has a contradiction. It enigmatically prohibits particles from having any mass and the ensuing forces that give rise to the world.

To resolve this enigma, physicists have theorized that if an unseen field permeated space through which particles had to move (the Higgs field), the field would then provide particles with mass. Each field has a counterpart particle. If physicists were correct, the counterpart of the Higgs field had to be an undiscovered fundamental particle, the Higgs boson.

Finding this new particle would require colliding known particles at very high speeds in a massive device — a particle accelerator — to detect the Higgs boson, as it is very unstable and exists for only a tiny fraction of a second before breaking up into other particles.

On July 3, scientists at Europe’s CERN research center announced they are nearly 100 percent certain they have found the Higgs boson, a basic building block of the universe. This long-sought particle may go far in resolving contradictions within the current model, and its discovery may be seen as one of the greatest scientific advances of the last century.

‘Race to Space’

The Hoover-Price Planetarium is showing The Race to Space through Sept. 2. We will discuss some of the technological and political problems and motivations that led to the unprecedented adventure in human history.

Shows are at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. The planetarium is included with admission to the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum. Call 330-455-7043 for information.

David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, 44708, www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043 or email hooverpriceplanetarium@hotmail.com.