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.
Summer is definitely here, and so is the summer Milky Way. Most people who live in the United States never see it except when on vacation in dark areas, but some of us lucky ones see it nightly. This month it arcs across the eastern sky as darkness falls, but it rises higher as the hours pass.
The brightest part of the Milky Way is in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius which is due south at midnight, and that’s the direction toward the center of the Milky Way which lies some 26,000 light years from earth. Explore the Milky Way with binoculars.
The planets Jupiter and Saturn rise together at 10 p.m, Saturn following brighter Jupiter. They’re at their highest at 2 a.m., and both are in Sagittarius.
Mars joins them at 1 a.m. and it’s high in the southeast at sunrise. Note Mars’ pale orange or red color which is due to oxidized iron – rust – on its surface. Mars is slowly brightening as the earth approaches it. The third-quarter moon is near Mars on the morning of July 11.
Mars is in the constellation Cetus, the Whale, this week and the next two. Cetus is not one of the 12 traditional constellations of the zodiac, but according to the way modern astronomers divide the sky into 88 official constellations, Mars cuts across a corner of Cetus from July 8 through July 26, reentering Pisces on July 27.
Last but far from least, Venus rises at 4 a.m., while the sky is still fully dark. By 5 a.m. it should be high enough to see it, depending on your local horizon, and you can follow it until well after sunrise if you know where to look. Telescopically, Venus is a thin crescent.
Venus is in front of the nearby cluster of stars called the Hyades, in Taurus, which makes a nice sight in binoculars while the sky is still dark. On the few mornings around July 11, Venus is especially close to the star Aldebaran, the fiery orange eye of the Bull.
There’s a possibility that a recently discovered comet will become bright enough to see in binoculars this week only. Named C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, it will be very close to the northeast horizon in morning twilight. You’ll find current observing information and maps online; 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.