Greg Redfern, wtop.com
Whether you look at the sky in the early morning before dawn or just after sunset, July offers planets to suit you. We also will have the last ever launch of a Space Shuttle on the 8th and a lot of summer star party events. So get out and enjoy the sky this month
Mercury will be in the west-northwest after sunset until the 20th. If you have a clear and unobstructed horizon you should be able to see golden-yellow Mercury about 45 minutes after sunset. On the 2nd, Mercury will be just above the thin crescent Moon. Binoculars will help you find the elusive planet. Also get the latest on the MESSENGER mission at Mercury here.
Venus is very low in the east-northeast and visible about a half hour before sunrise.
Earth is farthest from the Sun on the 4th - 94,512,000 miles or a difference of 1.67 percent from the average distance or 3.3 percent from the minimum distance. Doesn't do much to cool the summer temps around here!
Mars is dim in the east-northeast and visible about an hour before sunrise. The thin crescent Moon will be just above and to the right of Mars on the 27th. Use the Moon as a guide to finding Mars. The next NASA mission to Mars, Mars Science Laboratory, named Curiosity, is at Cape Kennedy undergoing final checkout for a launch later in the year.
NASA's DAWN mission finally arrives at Vesta on the 16th. The spacecraft will enter orbit and study the second largest asteroid in the main belt up close and personal for a year. Then DAWN will set sail for the largest asteroid, Ceres.
Jupiter claims its' title "King of the Planets" as it dominates the eastern sky rising at about 2 a.m. as July begins and at around midnight as the month ends. The gibbous Moon will be just to the left of Jupiter on the 24th. NASA's next mission to Jupiter is called Juno and you can read more about it here.
Saturn is up in the south sky at sunset. The ringed planet is close to a famous double star, Porrima (Gamma Virginis) all month long. The Moon glides below this duo on the 7th. NASA's Cassini mission is till going strong and you can read about it here.
New Moon is on the 1st and the 30th, First Quarter Moon is on the 8thth and this month's Full Moon occurs on the 15th. This month's Full Moon is called the "Full Buck Moon" in recognition of the new antlers seen on bucks. Last Quarter Moon is on the 23rd. Just before dawn (4 a.m.) the waning crescent Moon passes to the right of the Pleiades star cluster on the 25th. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter remains in orbit around the Moon.
Here are our down to Earth events for this month:
- Open House at the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus Observatory, will be at 9 p.m. on the 5th and the 20th.
- The National Capital Astronomers (NCA) have a star party at Rock Creek Park on the 2nd at 9 p.m.
- The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) will meet at 7 p.m. at George Mason University (GMU) on the 10th. The speaker is Warren Keller and his topic: S x 9 - Stack, Stretch, Sharpen, Setup, Select, Saturate, Smooth, and Share your Astro-Images.
- NOVAC will hold a public star party at C.M. Crockett Park on the 23rd from 7:30 to 11:00 p.m.
- The United States Naval Observatory (USNO) has Monday night tours but space is limited.
- The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) has several space related activities this month.
- Join NASM astronomer Sean O'Brien as he hosts a public star party on the 30th at Sky Meadows State Park from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
- The TriState Astronomers General Meeting will not have a meeting this month as the Brish Planetarium is closed for the summer.
- The Astronomical Society of Greenbelt (formerly the Greenbelt Astronomy Club) (ASG) will hold a star party on the 9th and 23rd starting at 9 p.m. at the Northway Field and Observatory. ASG will meet on the 28th at 7:30 at the Greenbelt Community Center. The speaker is Elizabeth Suckow and her topic is: Past, Present, and Future of the International Space Station.
(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)