Highlights for the July Night Sky
Brought to you by: Bob Haskins
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 treasures of the Night Sky
The Planets: “Evenings on the Ecliptic” The planets follow an imaginary line in the sky called the ecliptic.
Good news-Bad news. The bad news is three of the five planets we are accustomed to seeing have faded from view. Mercury and Mars in the Sun’s glare at sunset and Venus is lost just before sunrise. Better nights are coming. The good news:
Jupiter: Look for the brilliant planet in the SSE high in the sky at dusk.
Saturn: Look to the left of Jupiter in the SE and lower in the sky. Remember, it is not as bright as Jupiter. Both planets are visible all night long.
Earth: The Earth is at aphelion – farthest from the Sun – on July 4th.
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
Space X recently launched the first 60 of 12,000 satellites in order to provide broadband internet to every corner of the globe. The project is called Starlink. Initially, people were able to see the train of satellites in the sky with the unaided eye, however they have faded from view as they have moved into their operational orbits. The train will still occasionally be visible because they are flaring. Sunlight is glinting off the flat surfaces on the satellites bodies, creating flashes of light that can briefly rival the brightest stars in the sky. Astronomers are showing some concern but they will be an exciting spectacle to see if you are lucky enough to catch them flaring at dusk.
Comment / Factoid of the Month:
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.
Astronomy Websites to explore:
- heavens-above.com (satellites that are passing overhead)
- com (The evening sky map for the month)
spotthestation.nasa.gov (Sign up for alerts for the International Space Station passing overhead.