June 29, 2018

Night Sky:
 In July, all eyes turn towards Mars!


On July 27, Mars will be as close to the dun as it ever gets - that’s called the perihelic opposition. Four nights later on July 31, Mars will be the closest it’s been to earth in 15 years, a mere 37 million miles! If you happen to have a spaceship handy, this would be a good time to travel to the red planet. You would really save on gas. It’s also a unique opportunity to observe the Red Planet. Mars will have a visual magnitude of -2.8, making it shine brighter than Jupiter (apparent magnitude of -2.1.) That’s pretty amazing considering Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system (about 11X the diameter of Earth) and Mars is the 2nd smallest (roughly the diameter of Earth.) 

Mars will be very visible throughout all of July. On the 1st, it will rise at 10:20 p.m., with an apparent magnitude of -2.2. Last year at this time, it had an apparent magnitude of +1.7. That means Mars is about 25 times brighter then we are used to seeing it. If you want to spot Mars, simply look to the west. Mars is the brightest “star-like” object out there. 

Here’s a pretty good shot I got of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. It’s a giant storm that’s been going on for at least 300 years. It’s about 12,000 miles in diameter, making it about 1.5 times as big as our planet!

This is Messier 27, the Dumbbell Nebula. It was the first planetary nebula ever discovered. With an apparent magnitude of +7, you can observe M27 through a pair of binoculars! M27 is 1400 light years away.

What to look for in July 2018.

The evening of July 1 with begin with Venus and Mercury in the west, Jupiter high in the sky, and Saturn rising in the east. Mars will rise at about 10:20 p.m. All of these planets will continue to be visible throughout the month, with the exception of Mercury. Mercury will be visible just after dusk for the first part of the month, but after July 17, it will be lost from view.

M27 (pictured above) is located in the Summer Triangle formed by the stars Altair, Vega, and Deneb. All three stars are in the eastern skies right after sundown. Vega is higher and brighter than the other two stars. Deneb is closer to the horizon and slightly north of Vega. Altair is south of Deneb and almost due east. It a bit brighter than Deneb, but not as bright as Vega. M27 is two-thirds of the way between Deneb and Altair, and slightly about the same line. 

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on July 27. Unfortunately, this shower produces faint shooting stars that will probably be obscured by the full moon! Peak viewing time is around 2:00 a.m. Most of the meteor activity will be near the Southern horizon.

The Alpha Capricornids meteor shower peaks on July 30. The Alpha Capricornids is a minor shower but it has a reputation of producing slow moving, yellow shooting stars and bright fireballs! The origin of this meteor shower is pretty easy to find. Simply locate Mars. The shower radiates from an area slightly above the red planet! The full moon might make it difficult to see some of the shooting stars, but you should be able to spot any fireballs generated by the shower. Viewing will be best after midnight.

Moon Phases:

  • Last Quarter is the July 6
  • New Moon is the July 12
  • 1st Quarter is the July 19
  • Full Moon is July 27

(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].)

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