SOUTHERN UTAH — The weekly Sky Report alerts people to what they can see in the night sky by simply stepping outdoors and looking up, perhaps only with a pair of binoculars.
The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, which provides observational experiences for people to enjoy, appreciate and comprehend what we can see in our starry night skies.
This week Jupiter and Saturn lie exactly opposite the sun, Jupiter on the July 14 and Saturn on July 20. Being opposite the sun, they rise in the southeast as the sun sets in the northwest. Look for them beginning at about 10 p.m. as a pair, Jupiter being the brighter of the two. They’re visible the entire night, moving from east to west as the earth rotates from west to east, and they’re low in the northwest at the beginning of morning twilight.
Mars rises at 1 a.m, and it’s brighter than any star and has an orange hue, so you can’t miss it, especially as there are no bright stars anywhere near it. At the beginning of morning twilight it’s high in the southeast.
Mars is passing through the constellation Cetus, the Whale, according to the way astronomers divide the sky. It’s in Cetus from July 8 through July 26.
The fourth bright planet visible tonight is Venus, which rises by 5 a.m. Venus is far brighter than any star so you can’t miss it either, and its brilliance comes about because it’s close and is covered by highly reflective clouds. Telescopically Venus is a thin crescent. Our crescent moon is just above Venus on the morning of July 16, and to the left of Venus on the morning of July 17. On those two mornings Venus and the moon might just fit within the view of very wide-angle binoculars.
The star that is virtually overhead at midnight is Vega, in the small constellation Lyra, the lyre – a type of primitive harp popular in ancient Greece. It’s the topmost of the three equally-bright stars that form the popular Summer Triangle. The other two are Deneb, to the lower left of Vega, and Altair, a bit lower and to the right. The Milky Way passes below Vega and above Deneb and Altair, at midnight stretching from the northeast to the southwest. The Milky Way is our galaxy of a few hundred billion stars, seen from the inside looking out.
To the eye the Milky Way looks like it could be a cloud, but Galileo was the first to show, using his first telescope, that the Milky Way is actually made of stars beyond counting. And dust, we now realize. Notice the wide split in the Milky Way to the right of the summer triangle – that is huge clouds of dust blocking the light from stars beyond.
A recently discovered comet is bright enough to see with the unaided eye or binoculars. Named C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, look for it very close to the northeast horizon in morning twilight. You’ll find current observing information and maps online here; be sure to set your location and the date.
About the Sky Report
The weekly Sky Report is written by John Mosley, a retired astronomer who lives in Ivins. Mosley was Program Supervisor at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes.” He and his wife retired to St. George where he continues to stargaze from his backyard while he serves on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.
Send questions and comments to John@StargazingAdventures.org.