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Touring the Skies By: Jim Bonser (

June 28, 2013
Northern-Sun Print
Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. I hope you have enjoyed following the dance of Venus, Jupiter and Mercury in the evening skies last month. As July begins Mercury sets only 25 minutes after the Sun and only shines at magnitude 3.3 so it is going to be invisible in the bright twilight to the unaided eye. Venus, however, will be shining like a beacon soon after sunset and fun to watch the rest of the month. Because of the geometry of Venus’s orbit and the position of our planet Venus is moving farther from the Sun from our point of view each night this month. Most of the time this would result in Venus rising higher and higher in the sky but this time Venus stays at about the same elevation above the horizon, but moves more and more toward the south. Watch this month as Venus drifts south (to the left) parallel with the horizon against the steady march of the constellations Cancer and Leo toward the horizon in the background. On July 10th Venus will be joined by an 8% lit moon – an extremely slender crescent, about 8 degrees down and to the left of the bright planet. Don’t miss this pairing! To help me write these articles, I use a computer program called ‘TheSky’. One of the things this program can do is simulate the sky at sunset. Using that feature as I was studying where Mercury would be after sunset reminded me how long the sky stays bright after sunset in July. Discouraging, to say the least if you want to observe under dark skies and have to get up early to go to work the next morning! Oh, well. At least you can be out with just a light jacket to keep the mosquitoes at bay and be completely comfortable. One of the sights worth waiting for dark skies for this summer is magnificent Saturn. Saturn is visible in the sky all night in July and although you can find it and observe it before it gets completely dark, it is incredible to view Saturn even with a small telescope against a black sky. Saturn’s rings are nicely opened to us this month and when the atmosphere is calm and clear be sure to go to the trouble to get that scope out of the back of the closet, dust it off, and take a look at the ringed planet – it will be worth it, I promise! Saturn is in the constellation Virgo this month, not far from the bright star Spica. Spica is easy to find as we have said many times before. Just follow the arc formed by the stars in the handle of the Big Dipper away from the Dipper’s bowl and you will soon come to the bright star Arcturus, then continue ‘arcing’ through the sky until you come to the star Spica. Saturn will be the bright planet about 12 degrees above and to the left of Spica. 12 degrees is about the distance covered by your hand held at arm’s length with your fingers spread apart. On the night of Tuesday, July 16th, the Moon will pass close to Saturn; only about 4 degrees below and to the left. The rest of the planets are too close to the Sun to see or rise early in the morning ahead of our star. Mars rises at about 4 AM about 20 minutes ahead of Jupiter at mid-month. By the end of the month, Jupiter passes Mars and is about 23 degrees up from the eastern horizon at sunrise, which is about 6 AM on July 31st. Finally, one interesting planet that unfortunately requires a telescope to see, reaches opposition this month: Pluto. Pluto is in the constellation Sagittarius this year. It is a beautiful area of the sky with lots of stars and deep sky objects around it. The only meteor shower of any significance is the Delta Aquarids that peaks in the last week of the month. Unfortunately, the moon will be bright and will wash out all but the very brightest. Clear Skies!


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