Highlights for the July Night Sky
Do your part and help preserve the dark skies that we are fortunate to have in Waterville Estates. Turn off all unnecessary outdoor lighting.
Go outside tonight and discover the night sky
Brought to you by Bob Haskins
The Planets: “Evenings on the Ecliptic” The planets follow an imaginary line in the sky called the ecliptic.
Jupiter comes into view at dusk and dominates the night sky low in the SSW. It doesn’t set until 1 a.m. as July begins but sets two hours earlier as the month ends.
Saturn is visible in the SSE at dusk shining above and to the left of the star Antares “The rival of Mars” in the constellation Scorpius.
Venus rises two hours before the Sun and at dawn and is 20 degrees (two fists held at arms length) above the horizon.
Mercury barely makes it above the horizon at dusk and will be tough to spot. The next best time will be on August 21st when it appears 1 degree from the Sun during the totally eclipsed Sun.
Stars and Constellations:
Our focus for July is the constellation Scorpius *. The form that Scorpius makes in the sky actually looks like the deadly scorpion. Look for it in the south fairly close to the horizon. You can’t miss the star Antares, sometimes called the “rival of Mars” because of its bloody red color. It is the brightest star in the grouping and is a red “super giant” star, just like Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion which we talked about last winter. Antares represents the head of the scorpion with its tail extending down towards the horizon. Since very early times this constellation has represented death, darkness and evil.
The constellation Sagittarius is to the left of Scorpius. Most people today refer to it as the “teapot”. In the diagram you can see the spout, handle and lid.
High overhead look for the constellation Hercules. Just focus however on the keystone of four stars which form a quadrilateral and forget the rest. The ancient Greeks and before them the Persians saw this grouping of stars as a kneeling man. However, this was before we had outdoor lighting.
- Refer to the diagram from Chet Raymo’s book, 365 Starry Nights
Before the advent of electric light, our ancestors experienced a night sky brimming with stars. Today however the night sky is rapidly becoming unknown to the newest generations. In fact, millions of children across the globe will never see the Milky Way from their own homes. The glow of uncontrolled outdoor lighting has hidden the stars. There is no clear scientific evidence that increased outdoor lighting deters crime. It may make us feel safer but it does not make us safer. The truth is bad outdoor lighting can decrease safety by making victims and property easier to see.
Tip / Factoid of the Month:
We take it for granted that the Sun rises and sets and the Moon dutifully follows at night. We tend to pay little regard to either celestial body except perhaps when the Sun is not shining on the day we plan on going to the beach. However a solar eclipse changes everything. This is the time when we come face to face with the cosmic intersection of the Earth, Sun and Moon. Of all the the eclipses that occur, none is more awe inspiring than a total solar eclipse when the Moon completely blots our the Sun. On August 21th The Great American Eclipse will sweep 2,500 miles across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. Anyone in its 70 mile-wide path will witness a total eclipse and everyone else from northern Mexico to southern Canada will see a partial eclipse. This is the first time in 1500 years that a similar eclipse has occurred in the U.S. At Waterville Estates we will see a partial eclipse where 70% of the Sun will be covered by the Moon.
Astronomy Websites to explore:
- heavens-above.com (satellites that are passing overhead)
- com (The evening sky map for the month)
- nasa.gov (Sign up for alerts for the International Space Station passing overhead.