July 2012

Astronomy calms down a bit this July - pretty much just the normal planetary and lunar encounters, but that's not to say that these aren't exciting in their own right.  Last month's Venus Transit was spectacular, and you can see photos from the PV event here and here.


1st - 7th - Close Encounter - Pleiades, Jupiter, Venus - Look East after 4am and before sunset and look for the two bright objects that are Jupiter and Venus.  If you look right above them, the Pleiades will be there, making them all line up.

Full Moon - 3rd (Visible all night - East around sunset, West around Sunrise)

Last Quarter Moon - 11th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

14th, 15th, 16th - Close Encounter - Moon, Venus, Jupiter - Get up early and watch the East between 4am and sunrise and you'll see a crescent Moon above Jupiter and Venus on the 14th.  On the 15th, The Moon will be thinner and will move between Venus and Jupiter, making a wonderful triangle.  Then on the 16th, the Moon will again be thinner and lower, this time making an almost straight line with Jupiter and Venus.

New Moon - 19th (darkest skies)

23rd, 24th, 25th - Close Encounter - Moon, Saturn, Mars - On the 23rd, the Moon, Mars, and Saturn will make a nice line in the Western sky after sunset.  On the 24th, the Moon will be about 5˚ to the left of Mars, and 10˚ below Saturn, making a nice triangle.  Lastly, on the 25th, the Moon will only be about 8˚ to the left of Saturn, making a bigger triangle with Mars.

First Quarter Moon - 26th (Visible until midnight)

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset - Mars (SW), Saturn (SW)

Planets you can see throughout the night - Saturn (SWàW)

Planets you can see in the Morning - Jupiter (E), Venus (E)

Mercury - Not really worth looking at, although good observers could see it before July 7th.

Venus - A morning "star" this month that keeps climbing higher as the month goes on.  Look east after 4am and before the sun rises in the morning.  5-15˚ below Jupiter.  A telescope will allow you to see Venus in a crescent phase at the beginning of July and half-phase at the end.  Closest to the Moon on the 15th.

MARS - In the SW after sunset, and sets around 11pm.  Extend the handle of the Big Dipper and follow that arc to Arcturus, then speed on to another bright star Spica, where Saturn will be above Spica, then look down and to the right about 15˚ for the reddish hued object that is Mars - use a star chart to help. Close to the Moon on the 24th.

Jupiter - Rises in the East around 3am and visible until sunrise.  Near Venus, but moves away throughout the month.  Close to the Moon on the 15th and 16th.  Use binoculars or a telescope to try to see the four Galilean Moons.

SATURN - In the Southwest at sunset and setting in the west around midnight.  Extend the handle of the Big Dipper and follow that arc to Arcturus, then speed on to Spica, the brightest star in Virgo.  Saturn will be the slightly brighter object above it.  A telescope will show you its rings, and possibly even the shadow of the rings on the planet's surface.  Close to the Moon on the 24th and 25th.

CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month - or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

Just after Sunset (around 8:30pm) - Bootes, Corona Borealis, and Hercules. Bootes is known as the shepherd, kite, or ice cream cone.  You can follow the arc of the Big Dipper's handle to get to its brightest star Arcturus.   Hercules has an Extra Challenge! Look for M13, the Hercules Cluster in between two of Hercules' "keystone" stars.  It known as the best globular cluster in the northern skies.  It will be a fuzzy spot in binoculars and will be even cooler through a telescope

Midnight - Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila (a little to the south) - These are the Summer constellations, and since they are visible right above us around midnight (and to the east after sunrise), it's now summer!  More details below in the "General Constellation Finding Tips"  Extra Challenge! Look for M57, the Ring Nebula in between two of Lyra's stars.  It is 2,300 light years away, which means we're seeing what it looked like 2,300 years ago.  The shell that you see is the remnants of the central star that blew up some 20,000 years ago.  It has a donut-like appearance through a telescope.  It'll be easy to find, but tough to see in binoculars, so get the scope out.

Early Morning - Pegasus, Andromeda


Summer Constellations: Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, Delphinus

Look to the east after sunset or straight up around midnight and you'll be able to see Lyra (the Harp), Cygnus (the Swan), Aquila (the Eagle), (and Delphinus the Dolphin.)  These three constellations have the three brightest stars of the summer constellations (Vega, Deneb, Altair - respectively.)  Those bright stars create the summer triangle.  Off to the east of this is the small but beautiful constellation of Delphinus.

Spring Constellations:  Bootes, Virgo, Leo, Corona Borealis, Hercules.

First find the Big Dipper in the North (a North Circumpolar Asterism that never sets) and look at the handle.  Starting at the star closest to the "cup" part, follow the rest of the stars in the handle and follow the arc to Arcturus.  Arcturus is the brightest star in Bootes the Shepherd.  Some say he looks more like a kite, others say more like an ice cream cone.

Then, following the same "arc", speed on to Spica.  Spica is the brightest star in Virgo.  Virgo's a dimmer constellation, so you'll be rewarded when you find her.

To the left of Bootes is Corona Borealis.  This is a small collection of stars that make a crown, cup, or U shape in the sky.

To the left of Corona Borealis is the great constellation of Hercules.  Hercules is the Hero of the sky and has a central "keystone" asterism, in which lies M13, the Hercules Cluster.

Lastly, Leo (this may be hard to find, as it is setting close to sunset now) is a constellation consisting of a backward question mark (or sickle) and a right triangle to the left.  Use the two Big Dipper "cup" stars that are in the middle of the Big Dipper and follow the line they make to the bright star Regulus, the brightest star in Leo.