Guide for WAA Starway to Heaven for July 2015

Ward Ridge Reservation, Pound Ridge, NY

Sunset: 828pm Astronomical Twilight ends: 1032pm

Venus is easiest to find, even though it’s low in the west where the sky is brightest. In a telescope, Venus gets larger and skinnier at the same time. Find Venus as soon as you can in the twilight sky –it’s easier to see the crescent phase. Jupiter (from the Earth’s point of view) is nearby, much fainter, hanging out together low in the western evening twilight sky. This month is the last chance to see the pair in the evening sky.

Saturn is found in the southern sky, highest just after dark. Its rings are tilted wide open. Take a few good looks to enjoy this masterpiece of our Solar System. First, notice the rings, then look at the planet’s disk and look for the faint cloud bands (compare to Jupiter’s more prominent cloud bands). Then look for a dot nearby – a few ring widths away from the planet – that’s Saturn’s largest moon – Titan. Now look more closely at the rings. Are the main rings slightly different shades of white? The planet’s shadow is just visible on part of the rings near Saturn’s disk. Crank up the power and look for details.

The Moon is still in the morning sky, so we won’t see it tonight.

On July 14th, the New Horizons spacecraft will sweep past Pluto at 13.8 km /sec (31,000 miles per hour). Pluto is hard to find even when you know where to look, another faint sparkle with lots of Milky Way stars behind it. But this month Pluto is served up on a teaspoon. Look to the upper left of the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to see the group of stars which looks like a teaspoon, and Pluto (and its visitor, the New Horizons spacecraft) is there at the tip of the spoon, so we can point in the right direction when we root for our Pluto-Charon/Kuiper Belt spacecraft.

There’s another dwarf planet being visited by a space probe – the Dawn spacecraft is orbiting the largest member of the asteroid belt, Ceres. Ceres is in the same part of the sky as Pluto, skimming across the lid of the teapot this month at magnitude +7.5. Use a chart to see it in good binoculars and telescopes of all sizes.

The International Space Station is visible in the pre-dawn , but many other satellites and rocket stages are visible all night as the Sun stays close enough to the horizon for satellites to be visible all night in July. Tonight, the Chinese space station Tiangong 1makes a pass overhead, entering our sky from near Jupiter’s location about 935pm.

And, that’s just the objects in our solar system!

Link to a good star chart for July to find everything else…. http://skymaps.com/downloads.html

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