After a couple of months with no evening planets gracing our skies, both Mercury and Saturn will make their appearance late in the month. It will be a bit of a viewing challenge, but on July 29, Mercury will appear just below the very young Crescent Moon in the WNW 20 minutes after sunset. Shining at magnitude -1.1, it will be located 6 degrees from the horizon. By August 15, Mercury will have reached its highest position above the horizon at 10 degrees. One hour after sunset, Saturn will be visible in the ESE very close to the horizon. At mag +0.1, it will continue to brighten as it nears opposition in mid-August. At opposition, the planet will be directly opposite the Sun and at its closest point to the Earth. This event happens approximately 13 days later each year. The Rings of Saturn will be tilted 13 degrees upward from our vantage point making them quite easy to view with a small scope or perhaps even binoculars.
The bulk of the planetary activity will continue to be in the morning sky throughout July. Even though we started out talking about Mercury appearing in the evening sky, it will actually still be in the morning sky briefly, dropping out of sight in the first week. Perhaps we should just make the early and late July observations of The Winged Messenger our challenge for the month and call it good. Look for Mercury in Taurus the Bull 40 minutes before sunrise in the ENE. The Sun’s closest, and therefore speediest, neighbor will be out of view until it pops up in the west as previously described above.
Venus, viewed an hour before sunrise in the ENE, begins the month 4 degrees to the upper left of the star Aldebaran in Taurus and will end the month 36 degrees to the lower left of the same star. Shining at mag -4.0, it will be the easiest of the morning planets to locate. Jupiter’s -2.2 mag will also be easy to locate in the southeast. Jupiter will begin a period of retrograde motion (it will appear to move across the background stars in the opposite direction as the Earth overtakes and passes it) which will last until November 23. By then, it will have moved 9.9 degrees west. Mars will begin the month 20 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter and continue to put distance between the two. Les prominent that Jupiter at mag -1.5, it will end the month 39 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter. Looking south an hour before sunrise, Saturn should be visible to the naked eye in Capricornus, the mythical half goat – half fish Sea Goat, although various sites give its present magnitude as .69 to .77. Uranus will be just 1.7 degrees to the upper left of Mars on July 31 and with its faint 5.6 mag, your best bet to finding it is a pair of binoculars and the Mars reference point. Pluto, at mag 14 and at opposition on July 19, will take a large telescope to find located a few degrees north of the asterism known as the Territory of the Dogs.
For the number crunchers out there, the Earth will be at Aphelion, or the farthest point from the Sun, on July 4 when we will be 1.0167 Astronomical Units (au) or about 94.5 million miles from our closest stellar neighbor. The Moon on the other hand, will reach perigee ten hours before the Full Moon on July 13th. This closest distance to the Earth, at 221,993 miles, will result in the closest Full Moon of the year, a so-called Supermoon. Because the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is elliptical in nature, our natural satellite will be at its farthest distance, or apogee on July 26 when it will be 252,446 miles away. Other Lunar highlights will include the very young Crescent Moon visible an hour after sunset in the WNW on July 1-3, the First Quarter Moon on July 6, the Last Quarter Moon on July 20 and the New Moon on July 28. If you are like me and like to see how early you can catch the young Crescent Moon, you will get another chance in the early evening hours of July 29 and 30.
If you were disappointed in the ‘meteor storm’ that had been predicted for the May 31 tau Herculids meteor shower, you are not alone. There was some high haze along Lake Superior’s southern shore, but enough stars were visible to make one believe any amount of activity would have been visible. While reports from across the country indicated there were some tau Herculids captured on film, one of the big western observatories reported their ‘all sky’ observation scope revealed just 19 taus and 4 other random meteors over a 2.5 hour period spanning the anticipated hour of peak activity. Like the unsuccessful hunters, fisherman, and copper pickers lament, we can only say, “Maybe next time!”
A quick note about swimming! On the day before the Summer Solstice (June 21, 2022), a canoe paddler capsized near Eagle Harbor, MI and when rescued, he had to be treated for hypothermia. This is no surprise as the Lake Superior buoys at that time recorded the lake temperature at a less than balmy 43 degrees F. In spite of our coolish early summer weather, I remain convinced we will get our fair share of swimming over the next three months. Many people do not realize the big lake takes longer to warm up than the land, but it also retains that heat well into the fall. Some of the nicest swimming days happen after Labor Day. It is always fun to see horrified tourists wandering the beaches in sweatshirts and vests only to see the locals still swimming the lake. Even when it isn’t ‘basking on a beach towel’ weather, a quick dip and a trip home are a treat to enjoy as we slip from summer into fall.
Compiled by Ken Raisanen of WOAS-FM – information provided by Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar, Michigan State University. More information and subscription information can be found on their website at http://abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar/ or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AbramsSkyNotes. Yearly subscriptions cost $12 and can be started anytime.
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