Looking Up This Month
The month begins with something that we cannot see . . . . well, first-hand anyway. There’s a total solar eclipse occurring on July 2 but the 120-mile wide track crosses South America, below the equator. Chile and Argentina are good observing spots! In La Serena, Chile, totality lasts 2 minutes & 13 seconds. If you can-not afford the trip, you can still watch live via streaming video. The event starts at 11:55am CDT and ends at 4:50pm CDT. Watch at https://www.timeanddate.com/live. Solar eclipses are often linked to lunar eclipses and this month is no exception but naturally we’re on the wrong side of the Earth to see this partial eclipse. Europe and African will be favored for this 65% partial event.
Back to stuff we can see! In the evening sky, if you to catch Mercury on its way to inferior conjunction, you need to look early in the month. On July 1st, Mercury sets 30 minutes before the end of evening twilight. Look for it just left of Mars in the west-northwest. In fact, Mercury, Mars, Pollux and Castor make a nearly straight line parallel to the horizon. The two planets seem close but Mars is 3.5 times farther from us than Mercury and almost a magnitude fainter. By about July 10th Mercury will be difficult to see. It’ll head into the morning sky where it has a pretty good view during the first week of August.
Mars is still with us in the west-northwest but Mercury is actual-ly brighter. Mars finally succumbs to the Sun’s glare early next month.
Undoubtedly the highlights this month and next will be our two large gas giant planets in the south. Jupiter’s opposition was last month and Saturn’s is the 9th of this month. This means Jupiter is already above the horizon as the Sun sets and rules the southeast as the sky darkens. At magnitude -2.6, it’s unmis-takable! Jupiter doesn’t set until 2am CDT at the end of July. A waxing gibbous Moon is just left of Jupiter on the 13th. Jupiter is also about 7 degrees from the reddish Antares. It’ll be sta-tionery at the end of July and then resume its eastward motion, away from Antares, in August.
As said, Saturn will be rising as the Sun sets and it will be visible all night. The problem will be it only reaches about 26 degree altitude at its highest spot near midnight. You’re looking through a lot more air near the horizon and the view will unfor-tunately suffer. It’s still worth a look, though! Saturn is fainter than Jupiter but it’ll be brighter than any of the stars nearby. Saturn is just left (east) of the Teapot asterism.
Venus is technically in the morning sky but it’s almost impossi-ble to see. You have to look immediately before sunrise. Supe-rior conjunction occurs next month as Venus passes behind the Sun and then venture into the evening sky. Its rise is slow, though.
We should give Pluto a mention here as the kids love Pluto! It reaches opposition on July 14th (the anniversary of the New Ho-rizons fly-by in 2015). Pluto is very near Saturn but it’s at 14th magnitude. You need some good charts for this one! If you’re keeping score, Pluto is near the star HD 184210 around July 11th.
The Earth is furthest from the Sun on the 4th of July at a distance of 94,513,221 miles.
The Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks towards the end of this month, peaking on July 30th. An average of 25 meteors per hour are expected in ideal (dark) conditions. The radiant is in Aquari-us and the predawn hours are favored. – DCL