This Week’s Sky: July 28 – August 4

The Moon pays a visit to Mars and Saturn.

Seronik-Daylight Moon

The Moon approaches first-quarter phase in a deep blue twilight sky. Courtesy Gary Seronik

All Week

Evening sky

The evening sky, facing southwest, approximately one hour after sunset.

The evening sky belongs to Mars and Saturn, and a sprinkling of bright stars. Mars is holding its own, low in the west during evening twilight. The red planet is about 20 degrees up when darkness falls and sets a little before midnight, local daylight time. It is moving eastward and getting farther and farther away from Spica. Saturn is roughly 24 degrees up as twilight fades and sets around 12:45 a.m. The ringed planet is still a good telescopic sight in the early evening sky. A little after 4 a.m., brilliant Venus pops up above the northeastern horizon. It’s hard to miss. The same, however, can’t be said for Mercury. The fast-moving planet rises an hour after Venus and an hour before the Sun. Try binoculars if you’re having trouble picking the planet out from bright twilight.

August 2

Moon and Mars bino view

The Moon and Mars as seen in 7×50 binoculars from Vancouver, British Columbia.

Tonight a fat crescent Moon will lie to the right of Mars as the pair set in the evening sky. Observers on the West Coast will get to see the duo separated by less than three degrees. The red planet and Luna will be a little more than four degrees apart as they set for those watching in Ontario. From either location, this will be a fine binocular sight.

August 3

The Moon and Saturn

The Moon lies near Saturn in the evening sky. (For clarity, the lunar disc is shown larger that it appears in the sky.)

This evening the Moon will be at first-quarter phase, hitting that mark at 8:50 p.m., EDT. As it does so, it will be positioned just to the right of Saturn. The Moon and the ringed planet will be about four degrees apart for those watching in Ontario. By the time darkness falls on the West Coast, the lunar disc will have moved another degree closer to Saturn, making for an even more impressive sight.

Weekend Stargazer

The terminator sweeps across some of the Moon’s most unusual terrain over the August 1-3 weekend. Aim your telescope toward the region lying between little Mare Vaporum, and the expanse of Mare Tranquillitatis. There you’ll find oddly furrowed features and a couple of badly beat up craters.

Seronik-Mare Vaporum region

The Mare Vaporum region of the Moon. (Click on the image for a larger version.) Courtesy Gary Seronik

Julius Caesar is in particularly rough shape. Its original, circular form has almost been completely erased. And notice the deep trenches to the north and on either side of it. What happened here to cause this mess? The formation of the Imbrium basin is what happened! When a giant impact excavated the Imbrium basin 3.85 billion years ago, ejected debris raked the surrounding terrain, nearly destroying Julius Caesar, neighbouring Boscovich, and creating the nearby linear grooves. You can think of these features as the “smoking gun” that point accusingly back to the centre of Imbrium. It’s a fascinating (if apocalyptic) story, and a wonderful area to explore with your telescope.

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