Jul 01

What’s Up in the Sky

What’s Up in the Sky – July, 2014

Milky Way Cool

Even though it does not get dark until after 10 p.m., next month offers some interesting nighttime viewing.  Several notable events involve the Moon and bright planets or stars.  The first occurs next Tuesday when the crescent Moon will be just below the star Regulus.  Look near the western horizon one hour after sunset.

The action continues four days later when the Moon (which is now just past first quarter) will appear very close to Mars and just to the right of the star Spica.  We’ll come back to Mars and Spica, but first, continue to follow the Moon because two nights later (Monday, July 7) it will be just below the planet Saturn.  Use binoculars if the sky is too bright.

Keep observing Mars and Spica.  Each night the distance between them will become less until Sunday, the 13th when they make their closest approach.
Early risers can continue to enjoy the show on Thursday, July 24, when, 45 minutes before sunrise, you can spot the crescent Moon just to the right of Venus.  Binocs will reveal Mercury to the lower left of Venus.

But July and August really belong to the galaxy – the Milky Way.  In a dark sky, look toward the  southeastern horizon and look for the “Teapot” in the constellation Sagittarius.  Rising up from the spout and arcing all the way across the northeastern sky to the constellation Cassiopeia, is a broad band of light known to the ancients as a heavenly River, a Sky Road, and a Great Path to the world beyond.  We now know, of course, that this band of light is actually composed of the many billions of stars we see as we look toward the center of the Milky Way, our pinwheel-shaped “island  universe” that is home to our solar system as well as all the stars we see in the sky.

It is a somewhat sobering thought that this once majestic jewel of the sky, one that evoked tales of passion and was seen as a path to the hereafter, is now essentially invisible to anyone living anywhere near a city of any size.

The Milky Way was part of the culture and legends of many ancient peoples.  The Algonquins saw the bright stars in the stream as campfires of departed warriors.  The image of the Milky Way, as both the Great Path of life and the River of Heaven, appears frequently in the works of the unrivaled  T’ang dynasty poet Tu Fu.  Norsemen saw the Milky Way as the Path of the slain warriors on their way to Valhalla.

So, no matter what your origins are, you can use the Milky Way  as a guide to what’s up in the sky.

This month in history:
July 03: Harrison Schmitt born – 1935
July 04: Supernova, whose remnant is known as the Crab Nebula, is witnessed – 1054
July 06: Newton’s book, Principia, is published – 1687
July 09: Voyager 2 flies past Jupiter – 1979
July 20: Humans walk on Moon for the first time – 1969
July 25: Svetlana Savitskaya becomes first woman to walk in space – 1984