The August Skies

If you have a clear view of the east-northeast horizon, you may be able to spot Mercury on the first few mornings in August. Use binoculars and look to the lower left of much brighter Jupiter and faint Mars. Mercury sinks lower each morning and will be lost in the solar glare by the second week of the month.

Venus still shines brightly this month, low in the western sky in evening twilight. Throughout August, this brilliant planet moves ever closer to the binary star, Spica.

Mars appears low in the east during morning twilight, to the lower left of much brighter Jupiter.

Giant Jupiter gleams brightly in the eastern predawn sky, rising higher each day throughout the month.

Saturn becomes visible as the southwestern twilight sky darkens. It will sink lower each evening during August.

The peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower will occur on the night of Aug. 12. Find a dark location, away from light pollution, and try to observe between midnight and dawn. These “shooting stars” are produced when Earth passes through the debris cloud from the comet Swift-Tuttle. The tiny pieces of debris vaporize as they enter Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, producing glowing streaks of light.

YOUR BRAIN AND

THE COSMOS

“If the human brain was simple enough to understand, we would be too simple to understand it.”

– Doris Tsao, Caltech

The universe that completely surrounds us is incredibly complex. Astronomers using the European Space Agency’s Herschel space telescope have recently detected long-wavelength radiation from some of the most distant objects in the universe. From these observations they have determined that the visible universe involves some rather large numbers. There exists at least:

10 million superclusters of galaxies

25 billion galaxy groups

350 billion large galaxies, each containing many hundreds of billions of stars

7 trillion dwarf galaxies

30 billion trillion stars

Some astronomers believe that about 90 percent of the most remote galaxies remain unseen and will only be discovered when our technology advances sufficiently.

All of the objects that we can see and all of the radiation and gas and dust particles in the universe are made up of normal (baryonic) matter. The most fundamental unit of this “stuff that we can see” is the atom, which consists of even smaller subatomic particles called neutrons, protons, electrons, etc. But there is much more to the universe than meets the eye. Actually, less than 5 percent of the mass of the universe is made up of normal visible matter. Invisible dark matter accounts for 23 percent and invisible dark energy makes up 72 percent. Because the interactions between all these things are so complex, scientists still do not have a clear picture of how it all works.

Although the problem of how the basic structure of the universe works is extremely perplexing, there is an object that is far more advanced and far more complex than any of the billions of galaxies that are strewn throughout the known universe. Evolution has allowed the little three-pound human brain to develop into the most complicated and, by far, the most magnificent known phenomenon in the entire cosmos.

As you read this article, your brain is processing a tsunami of information from your senses (seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and tasting). At the same time it’s allowing you to experience consciousness and emotions, form memories, think and reason. Although you don’t notice it, your brain is also controlling your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and rate and depth of breathing. And, when you’re done reading, your brain will dictate your physical movements as you walk, talk, sit or stand. In short, your brain governs everything you do.

In order to accomplish all of its necessary tasks, the human brain contains about 100 billion nerve cells, called neurons. These carry electrochemical signals at speeds up to 250 mph as they transmit messages to each other and to the spinal cord and nerves throughout the body.

Our brains have allowed us to understand at least some of the complex mysteries of the vast universe but we’re just recently starting to comprehend the unbelievable mysteries of the microscopic universe that exists within our own minds. The final frontier of human knowledge may not end at our understanding of the origin of the universe, it may actually be found within the confines of our own skulls.

Editor’s note: This monthly guide to the stars is from the Marshall Martz Memorial Astronomical Association and The Post-Journal. For further information, contact the M.M.M.A.A. at www.martzobservatory.org.