July skies, Venus bedazzles

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In the early evening skies, Venus continues to bedazzle us with its brilliance at magnitude -3.9. At about 10 degrees above the western horizon it sets about an hour and a half after the Sun. One thing to watch for is its close encounter with the bright star Regulus in Leo “The Lion.” On the evenings of July 21 and 22 Regulus will be just one and one-quarter degrees from Venus. At magnitude +1.4, Regulus will be 130 times dimmer than Venus. Nevertheless, a good pair of binoculars should reveal this close encounter.

Saturn spends July hanging out near Spica in the constellation Virgo. On the 24th it reaches quadrature (90 degrees east of the Sun). Due to this the shadow of the ringed planet is projected onto its rings on the eastern edge of the planet. This should prove to be quite a sight in small to medium size amateur telescopes.

This month the planetary landscape becomes really interesting just before dawn. Mars begins the month roughly 8 degrees above the eastern horizon at about a half hour before sunrise. Slightly below and to the left of Mars, Jupiter peeks up just above the horizon. Jupiter continues to climb toward Mars and by the 22nd the two planets will be only three quarters of a degree apart!

But wait, the show gets even better. Mercury joins the planetary parade and climbs to within about 7 degrees below Mars and Jupiter. Mercury begins to brighten rapidly at the middle of the month and is shining at magnitude zero by the 30th. The end of the month should be prime time for some early morning planet viewing about an hour before sunrise.

Let’s not forget our home planet. Earth reaches aphelion, its farthest distance from the Sun, on July 5. Its distance from the sun will be 94,509,959 miles from the Sun, which is about 1.7 percent farther than average. Even so, remember to use your sun block when you head outdoors.

The Moon will be new on the 8th, first quarter on the 15th, full on the 22nd and last quarter on the 29th. Looking east on the 4th, about an hour before sunrise, the waning crescent Moon will be just below the Pleiades (Seven Sisters). Two days later on the 6th, the thin sliver of the Moon will be just below and to the right of Mars and just above and to the right of Jupiter.

Looking at the western horizon on the evening of the 10th, the crescent new Moon will be just below and to the left of brilliant Venus. On the 16th Saturn will shine just above the Moon with the bright star Spica to the right.

Clear Skies!