Jun 30, 2017
by Tre Gibbs
Saturn is the prominent planet this month! The quintessential ringed gas giant has been slowly making it’s return to our night skies since late May and is poised for perfect viewing on clear, still nights. The one issue with this distant world is that it’s really distant. So, from Earth, it appears as if it’s simply just another “star” in the night sky. - except for one small difference… it doesn’t twinkle.
On the evening of July 6th, the moon rises and travels the sky just to the left of Saturn. When it’s dark (and weather permitting) it will be easy to spot this distant neighbor appearing as a small but steady stream of light. Earth has a spacecraft orbiting Saturn. The spacecraft left Earth in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. Since then, Cassini has been sending back incredible images of the planet, its ring system and many moons. The mission ends, however, this September 15, as the spacecraft plunges into the ringed giant, becoming part of the planet itself.
Two nights later, on July 8th, we are treated to this month’s full moon, known as the Full Buck Moon, since it’s the time of year that bucks are showing off their new antlers.
There are also some cosmic happenings in the pre-dawn skies. For the early risers, look to the east around 5:00 - 5:30 am on the morning ofJuly 20th to see the moon paired up with brilliant Venus. The Goddess of Love will be sitting just above the waxing crescent moon, until the sun’s increasing glare renders her practically invisible.
Jupiter has been a brilliant force in the early evening skies all through later Spring and early Summer of this year. Look high in the southwest after twilight to see the Roman King of Gods still shining brightly in the constellation Virgo, The Maiden of the Harvest. Jupiter, being further away from the sun than Earth, orbits the sun more slowly than Earth does. So, as Earth continues its orbit around the Sun, it catches up to and passes Jupiter, which is why over time, bright Jupiter appears a little further west than it did the night before. While extremely subtle and not noticeable on a nightly basis, over several weeks and months this westward drifting becomes increasingly noticeable. On the evening of the 28th, the moon and Jupiter travel the sky together, so look for both in the southwest on this one night only as twilight begins.
OnAugust 21st, we are going to experience an almost Total Solar Eclypse! This is the first total solar eclipse in the USA since 1979, although, from our location here in California, we will only experience about 80-85% of the sun being blocked, but it will be very noticeable as the daylight will darken slightly, making everything looks strange and erie. FYI - here’s what happens during a Solar Eclipse. The moon, orbiting Earth, crosses in front of the sun, temporarily and partially blocking a great deal of sunlight from reaching us.
Remember – Never look at the Sun directly. Find some proper glasses to protect your eyes so you can view the eclipse - you can usually find some online (amazon.com). The eclipse will slowly start to begin around 9:00 am on Monday morning and by 11:36 am, the eclipse will have ended, with the moon having moved past the sun, and no longer blocking any of its light.
Enjoy your Summer, protect your eyes and until next time, keep looking up!
Image of Total Solar Eclipse in 1999 by Luc Viatour: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Solar_eclipse_1999_4_NR.jpg