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Sky Report - July 2013

Venus Glows in Western Dusk, Saturn in Southwest and Mars-Jupiter Encounter in Eastern Dawn

In July 2013, the planet Venus is a brilliant point of light low in the West at twilight. Venus is now creeping southward across the zodiac so its setting time remains about 90 minutes after sunset during July. On the evening of July 10th, the crescent moon will appear to the left of brilliant Venus. On the following evenings, the moon will shift rightward or towards the South. On the evening of July 15th, the half full evening moon will appear near Spica, Virgo's brightest star. On the next evening, the moon will appear nearly in line with the planet Saturn. On the evening of July 22nd, the moon will be full, rising as the sun sets and hanging in the sky all through the night.

But in the morning sky of July 22nd, there is a line up of the planet Mars and the bright planet Jupiter in the Southeast dawn, the two planets being less than two moon widths (1 degree) apart. Each morning, Jupiter will appear higher as it pulls away from Mars.

July evenings feature the Big Dipper high in the North Northwest; its handle is on top while its bowl is tucked underneath. If you extend the Dipper's handle outward, you'll come to the bright golden star Arcturus. Follow the same arc an equal distance further and you'll come to Spica. The Dipper's bottom two stars points right to the North Star, a modest star about half way from the northern horizon to the top of the sky. The North Star is at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper, a rather faint star pattern. Only on clear, moonless nights will you likely be able to see the stars of the Little Dipper's handle and bowl. On a typical hazy summer night, you are likely to see only three stars in the Little Dipper, the North Star and the two stars at the edge of the Little Dipper's bowl. These two stars are also known as "the Guardians". When Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492, he used both the North Star and the Guardians for the direction North. Since then, the axis of the Earth has shifted so it now lies less than a degree from the North Star.

High in the East is the Summer Triangle, a trio of widely spaced bright stars. The brightest star of the Triangle is Vega, a white-blue star nearly overhead. To the South of Vega is Altair, a bright star representing the eye of Aquila, the Eagle. The third star of the Summer Triangle is Deneb, the brightest star in Cygnus, the Swan. On clear, moonless nights in July, you can see the dull glow of the Milky Way running across the Summer Triangle.

If you trace the Milky Way down to the southern horizon, you'll see two conspicuous star patterns. Low in the South is the 'J' shaped pattern of the Scorpion. On the upper side of the 'J' is Antares, the bright pinkish star marking the head of the Scorpion. Above and to the right of Antares are three stars in a row representing the claws of the Scorpion. Follow the 'J' to its bottom to where it bends back. At the left end are two close stars, known as 'cat's eyes'. To the left of the Scorpion are a pattern of modest stars that forms an old fashioned tea kettle. This is Sagittarius, the Archer-Centaur. A Centaur was a mythical creature with the upper body of a man and lower body of a horse. Just to the right of the spout of the tea kettle is the center of galaxy, called Sagittarius A. Our sun and planets are about 27,000 light years away from our galaxy's center. Close study of the stars near Sagittarius has revealed an enormous mass, a black hole of nearly 4 million times the mass of our sun.

Frostburg State's new technology center called the CCIT has most of its outer walls in place. The building will likely be opening in the spring of 2014. It features an auditorium called the Multi-Media Center or MLC, which includes a digital planetarium projector. There will be resumption of our Sunday Public Planetarium programs, featuring a review of the past week's weather, the current night sky sights and a half hour feature. Sunday Tours of the Science Discovery Center will also be available to the interested public.

By Dr. Bob Doyle

To contact Dr. Doyle, his mailing address is Planetarium, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD 21532 or by email at rdoyle@frostburg.edu.









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