Skywatch: What’s happening in the heavens in July

By Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.,

If you enjoy the beauty of planet Venus, you’ll love July.

As July’s night curtains open at dusk, our blazing bright neighbor Venus and our other next-door planet, Mars, will loiter in the constellation Cancer at dusk, when the month starts. Gaze toward the low, western horizon after sunset to find them.

On each consecutive night, the two planets will appear to dance. Venus — as usual — will look like an airliner with a bright landing light, thanks to its -3.9 magnitude, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. The Red Planet will be harder to see in July with its +1.8 magnitude, making it substantially dim.

Check out those planets over several nights.

By July 11 to 13, Venus and Mars will lock in their close slow dance. A very new, young moon will approach the two planets low in the western heavens at dusk on July 11. On July 12, the sliver of a young moon will have passed them both. The red, dim Mars and effervescent Venus will officially conjunct on the morning of July 13, according to the observatory, but we’ll have to wait until evening to see them again.

While Mars aims for the horizon late in July, Venus will hang out in the west at dusk for the rest of the month.

The fleet Mercury — our solar system’s innermost planet — will put in a short appearance close to the horizon in the east-northeast. While you’re walking the dog before dawn, catch Mercury (a zero-magnitude object, bright under dark sky conditions) before the sunrise washes out the planet, in the first part of July. With a clear horizon, you may be able to see the fast planet before 5 a.m. On July 7, the old, very skinny crescent moon will be just above Mercury.

Saturn will rise late in the evening when July begins. You can find the ringed planet in the east-southeast in the heart of the constellation Capricornus, ascending the heavens around the 10 p.m. hour. It’s a zero-magnitude object, according to the observatory.

Meanwhile, Saturn’s current traveling companion, Jupiter — the other large gaseous planet — will rise about an hour later in the east-southeast. It will hang out in the Aquarius constellation as a -2.7 magnitude object, very bright, and easily found by casual sky gazers.

Look to the southern sky by about 4 a.m. and you’ll have a solid view of both planets. Just before day breaks, see them above the southwest horizon.

Late in the month, the ringed Saturn will rise around 9 p.m. in the southeast, and Jupiter will enter the sky about an hour later. The full moon will officially occur very late on the night of July 23 in the eastern United States, rising a smidgen before Saturn.

The will moon appear quite close to Saturn on July 24, and you’ll be able to catch the moon halfway between bright Jupiter and ringed Saturn on July 25. The moon will offer a close encounter to Jupiter during the predawn hours of July 26.

The Southern Delta Aquariid meteors will peak in the heavens on the night of July 28-29, according to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Their hourly rate at peak that night may be about 20 meteors — if you’re patient and diligent, you might see a few. The waning moon, which rises after 11 p.m., will probably wash out many meteors. Grab a hot beverage and enjoy your search for shooting stars.

After shutting down because of the pandemic, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum will reopen July 30.

Down-to-earth events:

● Tuesday — “Venus Rediscovered: An Astrobiological or Astrophysical Frontier?” An online lecture by James Garvin, chief scientist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, will discuss what we might learn about Venus. 8 p.m. Hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. For registration: airandspace.si.edu, then go to “Visit” and “Events.”


 Friedlander can be reached at PostSkyWatch@yahoo.com.

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