The Milky Way shimmers and a predawn Moon visits Aldebaran and Venus.
The evening Saturn-and-Mars show is approaching its final act. As darkness falls, Mars is only a little more than 20 degrees above the southwestern horizon and sets just after midnight. Thanks to its eastward motion (which you can monitor by noting the planet’s position relative to Spica), the red planet doesn’t lose as much elevation as it otherwise would. Saturn is still in decent position though. It’s nearly 30 degrees up as twilight fades, and sets after 1 a.m., local daylight time. In the predawn sky, Venus dominates. The morning “star” gleams at magnitude –3.9 and rises nearly two hours before the Sun. Trailing Venus is Mercury, which clears the eastern horizon roughly 45 minutes after its brighter neighbour. You might need binoculars though to pick Mercury out of the twilight since the planet is only magnitude –0.9 — bright, but nothing like Venus.
This morning a thin crescent Moon will have a close encounter with Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus. This will be a lovely binocular sight as the lunar disc will lie one degree (two Moon diameters) from the orange star. The field has a little extra sparkle, thanks to the numerous stars of the Hyades clusters. The Moon clears the eastern horizon at around 2:30 a.m. local daylight time. The pair are at their closest at 4 a.m., PDT, which favours observers on the West Coast.
This morning a sliver of a Moon will rise roughly five degrees below brilliant Venus. The pairing should make for a fine naked-eye sight in the twilight sky. Keep an eye out for Mercury too, which will lie to the left of the pair.
Today Jupiter is in conjunction with the Sun, marking the end of one apparition and the start of another. The giant planet is lost in the solar glare for the next few weeks.
The Moon is new today at 6:22 p.m., EDT. Star-party season shifts into high gear — visit our listing of events to find one near you.
In the pre-dawn hours this morning, the South Delta Aquariid meteor shower reaches its peak. Although the Moon will be absent, the shower features a rather sparse ZHR of 20 meteors per hour, radiating from a point roughly 15 degrees north of first-magnitude star Fomalhaut.
The July 26 – 28 weekend is one of the year’s prime new-Moon weekends. Deep-sky observers get to enjoy dark skies, warm weather, and lengthening nights. And, oh what nights! The summer Milky Way arcs across the sky and invites inspection with binoculars and telescopes.
One of my favourite summer-sky activities is to settle into a chaise lounge and use my binoculars to sweep up and down the luminous path of the Milky Way, stopping whenever something interesting enters the field of view. It was on one such sweep many years ago that I stumbled across the wonderful Coathanger asterism, which lies not far from the distinctive little constellation, Sagitta. The Coathanger is made up of roughly a dozen stars ranging in brightness from 5th to 9th magnitude. It really does look like a coat hanger, albeit, an upside down one.
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