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What's in the sky: July

Stargazing by Jim White


July will not feature anything as spectacular as the May solar eclipse, or June's transit of Venus. But our first full month of summer promises warmer evenings, and plenty of celestial sights to view when the Sun sets.

The month begins with an early morning conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, in the early morning sky. If you are up early, look for the two low in the east. Brighter Venus will be below Jupiter, with the bright star Aldebaran below them both. Venus and Jupiter will be bright, outshining every star in the sky.

You may recall that Venus was in the western evening sky in May. Remember that June 5 conjunction, when Venus crept across the surface of the Sun? Once Venus moved across the Sun, it became a morning object. For the rest of the year, Venus will dazzle us at dawn rather than the evening as our "morning star" rather than our "evening star."

On our nation's birthday, Earth will be at its farthest point from the Sun. Our planet's orbit is slightly elliptical, and we'll be at the outer point of the ellipse in early July. We are closest to the Sun in January, some 3 million miles closer than in July. Proof positive that the reason we are warmer in summer has nothing to do with how close we are to the Sun!

We"ll enter July with a waxing gibbous Moon, which will be full on July 3. New Moon will follow on July 18.

July 15 will feature a triple-conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, and the Moon. Look for the trio low in the east before dawn; it should be an impressive sight. During the day, see if you can see Venus in the daytime. It is bright enough to be seen on a clear day, but difficult to find. When the Moon is close to Venus, it makes finding the planet easier. Locate the Moon, and look below and to the right for Venus. It should be about two lunar diameters away from the Moon. Binoculars help to initially locate Venus; after you find it, you should be able to see the planet with your naked eye -- in the middle of the day!

The summer constellations dominate the night sky in July. The summer Milky Way will be high overhead by the time it gets truly dark. In the east, the winged horse Pegasus will be rising, along with Andromeda and its famous galaxy. In the south, the teapot-shape of Sagittarius lies low near the horizon, in the Milky Way.

When we look in that area, we are looking toward the center of our galaxy. To the right of Sagittarius, see if you can pick Scorpius the scorpion. His tail touches the horizon at our latitude. Look for the scorpion's brightest star, Antares, and see if you can make out its red color.

In the north, we find the Big Bear, Ursa Major, and its asterism, the Big Dipper, low in the northwest. They all make for a terrific show on July nights!


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