Heads UP! for July 2019

Fifty years ago, a guy spent lots of precious fuel looking for a parking space in the Sea of Tranquility.  Fifty years from now, I guess there will be a “ParkYourLEM” app for that.  You can see how it looks from here for yourself as the Sun rises over Tranquility Base in the evening of July 7th.  Looking on the 8th is the same sun angle Apollo XI* had.   The best time to see all the Apollo landing sites is the 11th through the 13th in the evening and 21st and 22nd in the morning. I’ll have a map for those dates in a later post.

Summer nights are short nights, and there are many things we can’t see from here.  On the 2nd, a total solar eclipse slashes across the South Pacific and cuts a 125-mile-wide strip of darkness across Chile and Argentina.  The path misses Buenos Aires by 20 miles with the Sun 1 degree above the horizon.  July 16th has a partial lunar eclipse visible from most of the world, except here.  Oh. Except for a light shading at moonrise at Nantucket and eastern Maine.  That same full moon eclipses Saturn, and later in the day, Pluto, for some observers in the Southern Hemisphere, but not during the lunar eclipse.

Here’s the most incredible thing we won’t see – Venus passes behind our Moon on July 31st for much of the USA.  The pair will be five degrees to the lower left of the Sun in the late afternoon our time.  The Moon will be so close to the Sun as to be invisible.  I know.  I tried finding Venus ten degrees above the Sun in midmorning on July 1st. I suceeded by knowing the height of Venus above the horizon and pointing my telescope there.  The Moon was just to Venus’ right.  I couldn’t spot the Moon, even in the telescope.  (I don’t recommend trying this as the Sun is moving in the direction of the Moon and Venus as seen in the sky from our point of view, making this a dangerous observation.)

Oh, the things you can see!  During the 4th of July fireworks point out the two-day-old moon low in the west-northwest. (See chart, below, for 9:15pm Local Daylight Time.)

Star chart from Heavens-above.com for 9:15pm local daylight time on July 4th.

 Mercury, Mars, Pollux and Castor will be hiding a few degrees above the horizon to our Moon’s lower right. Is it possible to see these objects, even with binoculars?  Is it possible to see the Beehive Cluster between the Moon and Mars?  Maybe, and, I doubt it, respectively.  To the upper left, there’s a dynamic scene of Leo pouncing on the Moon.  Jupiter will be easy to sight in the southeastern sector with Saturn just rising to its lower left. Which will be the first stars to come out that night?  Perhaps Arcturus almost overhead, then Vega and Deneb in the east?  That afternoon, we’ll be at aphelion for the year, at 94,513,221 miles away from the Sun, we’ll be just over 3 million miles farther than at perihelion in January.  Mars will be about as far away from us as Mars can get, at 238,700,000 miles.  Mercury is a bit more than half the Sun’s distance from us at 53,600,000.  Mercury and Mars are both near aphelion, Mercury on the 7th and Mars in late August.

For a star chart for the whole month, one of my favorite sites is skymap.com.

The other three inner planets are swallowed up in the Sun’s glare by midmonth.  Mercury passes between the Earth and Sun on the 21st, but not directly in front of the Sun – that Transit of the Sun will happen on the next pass on November 11th.  The SOHO satellite’s C3 camera will show Mercury giving the Sun a wide berth, five degrees to the south of the Sun from the 17th through the 25th.  Mars appears as if it is resisting the Sun’s attempts to make it hard to see, slowly following Mercury into the glare.  Careful observers may get a glimpse of a large crescent Mercury as the planet’s appearance swells to one-quarter of the apparent size of Jupiter.

Mercury at inferior conjunction, with other inner planets in attendance, on July 21st.

Venus had a long run in the morning sky, and like Mars, will crawl past the Sun in our skies.  The brightest planet (from our point of view) will spend two months in the C3’s field of view starting July 16th.  

Now, Jupiter gets up where we can see it, highest by 11:30pm on the 1st and during twilight by the end of the month.  Don’t worry, Jupiter’s features can stand up to viewing in our summer twilight skies.  Watch for Jupiter’s Great Red Spot unraveling.  Will it come undone? 

Saturn rises at sunset as it makes its closest approach on the 9th.  Its shape is obvious with optical aid.  Later at night, high power in steady skies will make the ringed planet even more of a joy to see.   Iapetus is brightest this month, farthest to the west (ahead) of Saturn on the 15th.   Pluto is two degrees southeast of Saturn.  We are also closest to Pluto this month, on the 14th.  But Pluto is 1/4,000,000th as bright as Saturn.

After true darkness descends around 10:30pm local daylight time, the Milky Way is back, arcing across the eastern sky with the center of the galaxy between and just below this month’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Jupiter and Saturn.

The Manhattanhenge solar lineup with the cross streets of Manhattan happens again at sunset on the 12th and 13th.

The International Space Station returns to the morning skies in the first half of the month.  It pulls some all-nighters, visible every 93 minutes, from around the 15th through the 21st.  The ISS sails across the evening sky for the remainder of the month.  

*Half a century ago, we numbered space missions with Roman Numerals.  That led to typesetting errors in newspapers like “Apollo II” or “Apollo X1”.  Sometimes the astronauts used Arabic Numerals on mission patches.


Sat Jun 29 – Mid-atlantic ozone, northeast thunderstorm line, Puerto Rico dust from the Sahara

Today’s watches and warnings: Ozone advisory for southern NJ southward into Delaware and Maryland. No severe thunderstorm watch, but keep an eye out as a line of thunderstorms is expected. Visibility lower in San Juan, Puerto Rico today due to dust from the Saharan Desert.

The National Weather Service forecast discussion for 10am has the following helpful details on the possible strong storms this afternoon:

The approximate timing of organized thunderstorms this afternoon and
early evening is as follows:

Lower Hudson Valley and Interior Connecticut: 3-6pm
Northeast NJ, NYC and Coastal Connecticut: 4-7pm
Long Island: 5-8pm.
Cold front and thunderstorm activity should push SE of the region by

Storms this morning south central New York State are falling apart. These are not the storms for this afternoon, which will come out of Pennsylvania.

What to do? Keep in touch with the weather via an app you trust or check the NWS sites and the weather radar. NWS NYC’s weather radio is still out of service! Also, use your eyes and ears. If you can hear thunder or see lightning, go inside! No place outside is safe. A kiosk or pavilion will not save you from lightning. Lightning also splashes out through the ground.

Effects of lightning hitting a flagpole on the ground around it. Via Golf Digest magazine website.
Airnow.gov ozone air quality forecast map for Sat Jun 29. Go to the site and click on the ‘forecast’ tab.

Last but not least – Puerto Rico has been getting waves of dust from the Sahara Desert the past two weeks. Here’s the latest:

Yellow and red show areas of dry, stable air, often from the Sahara Desert.
Same view, in visible light, shows the haze area of dust to the east of the line of clouds that looks like a wave.

Visibility is down to nine miles at the San Juan Airport. After the next wave this weekend, there will be an extended area of dust over the islands.

From today’s forecast discussion at the San Juan National Weather Service Office:

Traces of Saharan dust will become evident again and hazy skies will
return tonight through Monday. Temperatures are also expected to
warm slightly with increased sunshine and winds sporting a weak
southerly component. The GFS also adds several meters to the 1000-
850 mb thicknesses during the period.

Air Quality Update Northeast and Mid-Atlantic USA Fri Jun 28

Update extending today’s advisories to NYC and Long Island:


Map of yesterday’s observed air quality for ozone and today’s forecast map: Orange is unhealthy for sensitive people – the elderly, asthmatics, people with lung disease or heart problems.

Interesting fact: Unhealthy for Sensitive Populations includes *Construction Workers*!
Yes, anyone doing strenuous outdoor activity is part of the group of people sensitive to ozone pollution. The stereotypical construction worker might bristle at being labeled as a ‘sensitive’ person, but workers doing heavy lifting all day breath harder, take in more air, thus their lungs are exposed to more ozone, and they may show cardiovascular symptoms.

For more details go to airnow.gov.

Or ask a question via the comment box. Thanks!

Ozone episode underway June 26 – 27.

Thursday, June 27th update:

Latest forecast map- 11am Th Jun 27: Ozone air quality advisory now includes Long Island (but not NYC).

Green is good air quality. Yellow is marginal. Orange is unhealthy for sensitive individuals.
Ozone is the pollutant forecast to be in the ‘orange’ range. It does not mean keep kids indoors. People with lung problems, asthma or who are sensitive to ozone should not do high exertion activities today. Kids with asthma should review their asthma plans with their parents and caregivers, but (generally) not be afraid to go out and play in code Orange conditions.

Check out airnow.gov for observations and updated forecasts. Forecast air quality maps are posted for the present day only.

Ozone exceeded the health standard for sensitive individuals, 70parts per billion, at several sites (in bold) on the 26th, based on preliminary data in progress.

Elevated ozone concentrations are possible through Friday. A cold front approaches from the north, shifting the winds, bringing increasing clouds. Then, showers Saturday night.

Ancora State Home NJ /340071001/O3/1 06/26/19 73ppb ozone
Essex MD/240053001/O3/1 06/26/19 73
Horn Point MD/240190004/O3/1 06/26/19 73
EdgewoodMD/240251001/O3/1 06/26/19 72
Millville NJ/340110007/O3/1 06/26/19 70
Monmouth U NJ/340250005/O3/1 06/26/19 70
Queens NY/360810124/O3/1 06/26/19 70
Babylon NY/361030002/O3/1 06/26/19 69
Blackwater NWR MD /240199991/O3/1 06/26/19 69
Greenwich CT/090010017/O3/1 06/26/19 68
BELLFNT2 DE/100031013/O3/1 06/26/19 67
Reading Airport PA /420110011/O3/1 06/26/19 67
Wash. Crossing NJ /340219991/O3/1 06/24/19 67
Westport CT /090019003/O3/1 06/26/19 67
Freemansburg PA /420950025/O3/1 06/26/19 66
Lancaster PA /420710007/O3/1 06/26/19 66
NEA PA /421010024/O3/1 06/26/19 66
New Garden PA /420290100/O3/1 06/26/19 66
Norristown PA /420910013/O3/1 06/26/19 66
Colliers Mills NJ/340290006/O3/1 06/26/19 65
Fair Hill MD/240150003/O3/1 06/26/19 65
Lancaster DW PA/420710012/O3/1 06/26/19 65
PG Equestrian C MD /240338003/O3/1 06/26/19 65
SEAFORD DE /100051002/O3/1 06/26/19 65

Areas in orange are projected to exceed the standard today.

The first words spoken on the Moon

Just for the record. . .

From the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal at https://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/alsj/a11/a11.landing.html with some technical commentary omitted to shorten the post. Get all the fun techie details at the link listed above. Time stamps are MET – mission elapsed time, or (most of the time) the hours:minutes:seconds since liftoff.

102:45:40 Aldrin: Contact Light.

[At least one of the probes hanging from three of the footpads has touched the surface. Each of them is 67 inches (1.73 meters) long. The ladder strut doesn’t have a probe. Buzz made the call at 20:17:40 GMT/UTC on 20 July 1969.]

. . .

102:45:43 Armstrong (onboard): Shutdown

102:45:44 Aldrin: Okay. Engine Stop.

[Neil had planned to shut the engine down when the contact light came on, but didn’t manage to do it.]

. . .

102:45:45 Aldrin: ACA out of Detent.

102:45:46 Armstrong: Out of Detent. Auto.

102:45:47 Aldrin: Mode Control, both Auto. Descent Engine Command Override, Off. Engine Arm, Off. 413 is in.

102:45:57 Duke: (Reporting that Houston has received telemetry confirming engine shutdown and that they have heard Buzz’s transmission regarding address 413) We copy you down, Eagle.

102:45:58 Armstrong (onboard): Engine arm is off. (Pause) (Now on voice-activated comm) Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

102:46:06 Duke: (Responding to Neil’s transmission but momentarily tongue-tied) Roger, Twan…(correcting himself) Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.

102:46:16 Aldrin: Thank you.

[It is easy to understand how Charlie got momentarily tongue-tied when Neil reported the landing. There was not only the excitement and thrill of what they had all just achieved; but, also, after the intense concentration of the last few minutes, the sudden change in call sign from “Eagle” to “Tranquility”.]

Bob- also, Neil never used the ‘Tranquility Base’ call sign in any of the simulations, so Charlie was surprised to hear it.

102:46:18 Duke: You’re looking good here.

102:46:23 Armstrong: Okay. (To Buzz) Let’s get on with it. (To Houston) Okay. We’re going to be busy for a minute.

[They will now prepare for immediate lift-off, in case, as an example, they have damaged an ascent fuel tank in the landing.]

[Aldrin – “Yeah, there are things that should happen.”]

[Armstrong – “Crisp(ly).”]

[Aldrin – “Yeah, ‘Crisp’ is a good word. Because there are discrete abort times that you try to adhere to if you see something leaking, something going wrong.”]

[Armstrong “Like, perhaps, if one footpad starts to sink into the surface and you’re losing stability. Or you have a propellant tank pressure problem, or something that would cause us to go quickly.”]

Heads UP! for June 2019

The giant planets Jupiter and Saturn make the evening scene.  It’s about time we had some bright planets before midnight!  Jupiter is opposite the Sun as seen from Earth on the 10th.  We are closest to Jupiter then, so the only planet that matters* is as big and bright as it gets this year.  Jupiter and Saturn don’t get very high in our mid-latitude skies.  They are very far south, but get high enough to let us see details in any telescope.

What to look for?  Keep an eye out for Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.  It may be falling apart!  Jupiter makes a complete rotation just under 10 hours.  About three of those hours are when the GRS is easily seen**.  Sky and Telescope has a good app on line for finding out when the GRS is visible.  Also, check out the banding on Jupiter and compare what you see with the classic banding pattern.  The cloud belt at the equator may be darker than usual.  The Japanese ALPO site has a great compilation of photos of the planets, but your visual impression may differ and its great to see it for yourself!  This is a good excuse to take a minute and make some some notes on what you see, as Jupiter’s clouds and storms happen to be especially dynamic now.

Saturn? Well, it’s got rings!  The rings and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, are available in any size telescope.  A 6-inch reflector (and maybe a 3-inch refractor) can show a dark line separating the rings into two parts.  Close in to the planet, just outside the rings, as many as five other moons may be visible.  The rings are so bright and tilted open toward us, it can make finding the smaller, closer-in moons more difficult. Even when I can’t see Cassini’s Division in the rings, after viewing for a while I can notice the outer part of the rings are a little bit darker than the inner section.  The inner part has more ice and the outer has a greater proportion of rock and dust.  On a good night we can see some butterscotch banding of the planet’s cloud tops. We start the month seeing the dark side of Iapetus as it ranges to the east (following behind Saturn), so it will be harder to find.  This yin/yang moon will pass south of Saturn’s disk around the 25th, getting brighter as it scoots around to Saturn’s west.  

Our giants are so far south on the ecliptic, they don’t get more than 27 degrees above the horizon.  So, even though Jupiter will rise at sunset this month, it’ll take a while to get high enough to make a nice presentation of its cloud belts in a telescope.  Saturn follows and maxes out its height in the south by 3am EDT.  If you want to see Jupiter overhead, it’s time to book that trip to Madagascar, Rio de Janeiro or Australia. Saturn would look pretty good from there, as well.

Jupiter’s four largest moons are visible in any telescope, when the planet or its shadow doesn’t hide them.  Three of Jupiter’s moons are larger than Earth’s; Ganymede (and Saturn’s Titan) are larger than Mercury. Two of Jupiter’s moons, Io and Ganymede, throw some shade on the planet just around midnight EDT on the 11th/12th.

Mercury rises up, bright, but low, in the evening’s west-northwestern sky.  It’s brightest when it’s behind the Sun, which happened back on May 21st, at magnitude -2.4, because the innermost planet was fully lit.  Mercury dims rapidly as it gains distance from the Sun.  Even though Mercury’s greatest elongation from the Sun is on the 23rd, it may be easiest to find in the second week of June, as it fades through (a still really bright) zero magnitude.  Mars finally is sinking into the sunset.  Gemini is a backdrop for Mars and Mercury until they get head-high with Pollux and Castor when magnitude +1.8 Mars passes three-times-brighter Mercury on the 18th.  Can you find +1.2 and +1.6 magnitude Pollux and Castor looking on from the right?  Binoculars may help, as will a clear view of the horizon.  A thin moon gets low down with Mercury on the 4th.

Maybe our Moon’s pass by the Beehive cluster (M44) won’t down out the bees this time on the evening of the 6th.  Might be a nice photo opportunity with the Beehive four degrees from Moon reflecting the Sun’s and Earth’s light.   

Venus rises just ahead of our Sun at 4:30am EDT, an hour before sunrise, so get out early and look low in the east, as Venus is only 12 degrees higher in the sky than the Sun. 

On the morning of the 30th, the head of the bull in Taurus appears to butt our Moon low in the east. Can you see a fourth magnitude star pop out from behind the dark limb of the Moon just after 5am? Use binoculars for all of this. 

Get ready for the 50th anniversary of our landing in the Sea of Tranquility.  The same low sun angle as during the Apollo 11 landing occurs on the 11th, after sunrise occurs near Tranquility Base on the 10th.  Moon is at perigee on the evening of the 7th, so we’ll get a slightly better view than usual. Phil Harrington has a great guide to seeing the landing sites at his Cosmic Challenge column at CloudyNights.com Of course, I also like the view of the Apollo 15 site in the morning sky, best on the 22nd and perhaps the 23rd. You don’t even have to get up early for this sight, as a daytime moon in a clear sky is sight most people don’t notice, and is available until 9 or 10am on those dates.

The International Space Station’s avalanche of overflights has wound down.  In June, we have some visible passes in the evening sky through the 6th.  Then nothing for most of the rest of the month. 

Just for the record, the Summer, or Winter, solstice (depending on how you look at it) is at 11:54am EDT on the 21st.

* Our solar system has be described as the Sun, Jupiter and debris.  Jupiter has more mass then the rest of the objects orbiting the Sun put together.

Jupiter is about 318 Earth masses

Saturn and the other six planets: 129 Earth masses

The asteroid belt: about 0.0005

The entire Kuiper Belt’s mass is estimated at less than 0.5 Earths, most likely 0.05 .

So, piling up the asteroids and outer belt objects doesn’t really change this characterization.  In addition, the Sun tops Earth by 333,000 Earth masses.

** For example, June 5th at 10:42 EDT, the Great Red Spot is centered on Jupiter’s disc.

Moon and Mercury

June 4, 2019 Low in the west-northwest Tuesday evening was the very slim Moon with the elusive planet Mercury to its right.

Mercury is that tiny dot on the right, in the clouds. – For a closer view, right click on the photo and click ‘view inage’ and click on it to enlarge.
For context, this is the whole photo, which the above photo was cropped from.
Canon XS 116mm zoom lens ISO-200 2 second exposure at f/7.1
9pm sky map forTuesday, June 4th, but good for Mercury the whole week. The Moon will move the upper left.

In a week, Mercury will be Castor’s belt buckle. In two weeks, a bit fainter, it will join Mars just off of Pollux’s hip. The week after that, Mars and Mercury will be off the left of the twins’ heads.