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July Star Map

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Jupiter and Saturn are Jumping into the Evening Sky!

July stargazing is always wonderful with the great constellations of summer climbing higher in the heavens. This July is even sweeter because Jupiter and Saturn, the giants of the solar system, are also on the rise. They'll be side by side, like cat's eyes glaring at you out of the darkness. Not far behind is Mars. All three will be available for the rest of the summer and autumn! If you ever wanted to purchase a telescope, now would be a great time to do it!

After 10 pm look for the giants of our solar system rising together in the low southeast sky. You can't miss them as they'll be the brightest star-like objects in that part of the sky. I see them as "cat's eyes." This month Jupiter and Saturn will be less than ten degrees apart, the closest they've been to each other in the sky in twenty years.

This month the full moon will lead in Jupiter and Saturn. Shortly after the moon rises on the night of July 4th, Jupiter and Saturn will follow close behind in the southeast sky. On July 5th, the moon will be just below the dynamic duo of our solar system. It will be quite a sight!

Not only are both planets bosom buddies in the sky, but they're also reaching their closest approach to Earth this year. On July 14th Jupiter will be less than 386 million miles away, and on July 20th, Saturn will be just under 837 million miles from our backyards.

Through even a small telescope you'll be blown away by both Jupiter and Saturn, but not at first. You have to be patient and let the planets get higher in the sky. Otherwise, your view will be a bit fuzzy because of the thicker layer of Earth's atmosphere near the horizon. Early this month they won't be high enough until after midnight. Later in July you won't have to wait as long. With even a small scope, you'll easily see Jupiter and its moons, along with some of its cloud bands. If you've never seen Saturn through a telescope, now's the time. Its ring system is breathtaking. I'll have more on the Jupiter-Saturn show in the coming weeks.

We'll have our first full moon of the summer next Wednesday night, and all next week moonlight will be stealing the show as it bathes the sky with light. After the first week of July stargazing will be much improved with the moon out of the early evening sky. The first star to pop into view is Arcturus, the brightest star in the summer sky in most of the northern hemisphere. Look for it in the high southwest sky. Even with the naked eye this red giant star has an orange glow to it. Arcturus is also the bright star in the constellation Bootes the Herdsman or Farmer. Like many constellations, however, Bootes really doesn't resemble what it's advertised to be. It actually looks like a giant kite with Arcturus at the tail.

High in the eastern heavens you'll see the prime stars of summer on the rise. The best way to find your way around the summer stars is to locate the "Summer Triangle" made up of three bright stars, the brightest in each of their respective constellations. You can't miss them. They're the brightest stars in the eastern half of the sky right now.

The highest and brightest star is Vega, the bright star in a small faint constellation called Lyra the Harp. The second brightest star on the lower right of the triangle is Altair, the brightest in Aquila the Eagle. Altair is on the corner of a diamond that outlines the wingspan of the great bird. The third brightest star, found at the left corner of the summer triangle, is Deneb, at least 1500 light-years away. It's also the brightest star in the tail of Cygnus the Swan. Cygnus is also known as the "Northern Cross" because that' what it really resembles. Deneb is at the head of the Northern Cross, presently laying on its side as it rises in the east.

In the north, look for the Big Dipper hanging from its handle in the northwestern sky, and the fainter Little Dipper, standing on its handle with Polaris, the North Star, at the end of the handle. Every single celestial object in the sky, including the sun and moon, appears to revolve around Polaris every 24 hours.

In the low southern sky this month, a little to the left of Jupiter and Saturn, there's a bright brick-red star called Antares that marks the heart of Scorpius the Scorpion, one of those few constellations that actually resembles what it's supposed to be.

Enjoy the July summer skies!




 

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and is author of the book, “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations” published by Adventure Publications. Available at bookstores and online at www.adventurepublications.net.

If you have any astronomical questions or want me to write about something you’re seeing in the night sky drop me a line at mikewlynch@comcast.net