June 30, 2017

 Night Sky:  Saturn, Venus, Venus and Other Highlights for July 2017


June turned out to be a very poor month for astrophotography.  High winds and low visibility made things very challenging. My primary targets for the month were Jupiter and Saturn, but you can’t always get what you want!

M57 was discovered in 1779 by Antoine Darquier de Pellepoix. Charles Messier discovered it a few days later. The “ring” is believed to be the outer layers of a dying red giant star. The tiny white dwarf star in the center of the ring is what remains of the core of the star. The M57 has a visual magnitude of +8.8, and like NGC 7023, is estimated to be 1400 light years away.

What to Look for in July 2017.

Jupiter starts the month fairly high in the sky towards the SSW.  

Saturn will start the month in the SE.  

Venus will be visible near the Eastern horizon in the early morning hours. Throughout the month, it will rise just after 3 a.m.  Venus is very bright (visual magnitude of -4) and a gem to see with the naked eye.  Venus’s atmosphere is basically a cloud of carbon dioxide.  The cloud reflects the sunlight and obscures all of the planet’s features, so it looks like a white sphere through a telescope. The carbon dioxide atmosphere also causes a greenhouse effect on Venus, resulting in an 850 degree surface temperature.

Mercury will be visible near the Western horizon just after sundown for most of the month.  

Neptune will rise in the east just before midnight on July 1.  With a visual magnitude of +7.9, you need a telescope to view this blue gas giant planet!  Neptune is about 4 times the diameter of the Earth.  It has 13 moons and takes about 165 years to orbit the sun.

Pluto will be in the night skies for all of July too, but don’t expect to see it. With a visual magnitude of +14, you need a powerful telescope to get a glimpse of this dwarf planet.

The Delta Aquarids meteor shower will be at its peak on the morning of July 30. The shooting stars will appear to originate from the constellation Aquarius, which will be high in the Southern sky at 1:30 AM on the morning of the 30th.

Moon Phases:

1st Quarter is the 30th
 Full Moon is the 9th
 3rd Quarter is the 16th
 New Moon is the 23th

(Gerry Lebing is a retired computer scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington, D.C.  He has visited Hatteras Island since the mid-1970s. He and his wife, Karen, have owned property here for several years and moved to their home in Waves full-time in 2013.  Astronomy is a subject that Gerry says he has always been interested in and one that he pursues seriously -- he's built an small observatory next to his house. You can send him questions about the night sky through e-mail, [email protected]g.)

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