Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report for July 26 – August 1

Stars shine brightly over Quail Creek Reservoir, Quail Creek State Park, Utah, May 26, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Mike Seamisch, St. George News

Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report
John Mosley

July 26 – August 1

The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at www.stellarvistaobservatory.org. Send questions and comments to [email protected]

After a year of visibility Mars is finally leaving the nighttime sky as it slips behind the sun. It was brilliant last autumn and a fleet of spacecraft took advantage of its close approach to land on and orbit it early this year, but that was then. On Monday it’s 24 degrees from the sun and sets 70 minutes after the sun, before the sky is fully dark. You probably could see it with binoculars if you try hard enough, but it will be a challenge. Don’t confuse Mars with the nearby star Regulus, which is whiter and almost twice as bright.

Far easier to spot is brilliant Venus, the brightest thing in the nighttime sky after the moon. Venus is in the west for the two hours after sunset. Although brilliant it is disappointing through a telescope because clouds permanently shroud its surface making it featureless. With high power you might notice that it has a gibbous phase 82% full. Its phase will decrease as it increases its angular separation from the sun and late this autumn it will be a crescent. Galileo was the first to notice the phases of Venus – he had the first telescope – and they provided ammunition for his claim that Venus (and the other planets) orbit the sun and not the earth.

Jupiter and Saturn are low in the southeast at 11 p.m. and high in the south at 3 a.m. Jupiter far outshines any star, while Saturn, to the right of Jupiter, barely outshines the brightest stars. Saturn is in the middle of the constellation Capricornus, which perhaps has the shape of the hull of a boat, while Jupiter is in Aquarius, a constellation with no particular shape at all that I can see.

Virtually straight overhead at the latitude of Kanab (and south of overhead from more northern latitudes) at midnight is the white star Vega in the Lyre.

You’ll hear about and elsewhere be encouraged to watch the Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower which peaks on Wednesday, but this shower is of interest to specialists only. It actually lasts more than a month from mid-July through mid-August with a shallow peak and it produces at most one meteor every few minutes late at night. The moon was full last Thursday, and its light won’t help during the following week. Wait for the upcoming the Perseids which are worth watching.

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