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Randy Holladay is a former Louisa County High School earth science teacher. His guest column, On & Off Earth, is published once a month. 

Venturing outside onto Earth in August, one is quickly reminded we are still deep in the sultry clutches of summer. But as always, change is afoot. 

As we lose about two minutes of daylight every day, at some point the August heat will bump up against the cool edge of fall. That refreshing breath of coolness hasn’t made it this far south in this hot, hot summer, but it’s coming.

During the last four months since the spring equinox, the sun has been shining down directly somewhere on the Northern Hemisphere, heating the water and land of our half of the planet. 

Hurricanes seem to be the method our planet uses to disperse that excess heat away from tropical oceans. With record July heat and eight named storms already, far ahead of the record year of 2005, there seems likely to be one coming with our name on it. Being overly hurricane-ready doesn’t seem like a bad plan for 2020.

Off Earth, the first night of August finds a large, nearly full moon just beneath a very luminous Jupiter, with Saturn a bit dimmer to their left. The full Sturgeon moon on Aug. 3 will form a line with the two planets, chasing them across the sky all night. Beacon-like Venus, the Morning Star, rises in the southeast before 3 a.m. all month, hard to miss for early risers out enjoying the pre-dawn cool. 

One of the more reliable meteor showers of the year, the Perseids, peaks overnight on the 11th and 12th. Anytime after dark, you might catch a Perseid “shooting star.” But the viewing gets better later in the evening as we spin into the dust trail left when comet Swift-Tuttle flew by Earth, then around the sun 28 years ago. Hope you got a peak at comet NEOWISE, our surprise July comet now fading in the northwest evening sky.

You don’t need any fancy equipment to watch a meteor shower, just some bug spray and a lounge chair. Get family and friends together, safely distanced, in a yard or field with a good view of the northeast, lay back and look up; your eyes will catch the movement the moment a dust grain becomes a meteor, cooked by the high-speed encounter with our upper atmosphere. 

The Sun’s yearly journey through the constellations of the zodiac finds our star in Cancer as August begins, our revolution moving the sun into Leo on the 12th.

In these less than august times, a walk in my woods, despite the heat, spiderwebs and horse flies, is always a relaxing respite from the troubles that continue to tumble our way. I hope you, too, can get out for a walk or bike ride and safely relax for a bit during these hot, tumultuous times. 

Just know that soon, a cold front pushed by Canadian winds will make its way into the Old Dominion, clearing out the heat and humidity. On our warming world that cool won’t last for long—it is still August. And, I hope you, like I, can safely be outside to smell that boreal breeze, to taste that first sweet, cool whiff of fall. 

Randy Holladay is a former Louisa County High School earth science teacher.


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