Prepare to do any blue moon tasks at end of July
Surveying our star-spangled sky for July, Venus and Jupiter prepare for a cosmic embrace after dusk in the west, Saturn strolls the southern heavens, we get close-ups of Pluto, and if you wash your car but once in a blue
moon, go find a sponge. For the past month, sky gazers have seen Venus and Jupiter appear to move toward each other in the western heavens at dusk. Quite conspicuous, our neighbor Venus (-4.6 magnitude, very bright) and the gaseous Jupiter (-1.8 magnitude, bright) conjunct on June 30, when they are one-third of a degree apart. On July 1, the planets are twothirds of a degree apart.
While the planets move apart throughout July, both still present an amazing sight to behold. Find the Venus-Jupiter pair lollygagging in the southwestern sky at dusk and catch the young, newmoon approaching Venus on July 18.
Turn to the southern sky after dusk to spot Saturn— with rings wide open— at zero magnitude, which is bright enough to see from urban areas. You’ll need a telescope to find the rings. It’s seen due south about 10 p.m. now, and when July ends, you can see it loitering due south at 8:25 p.m., just after sunset.
The fleet Mercury makes a breakfast appearance early this month, as you’ll find it before sunrise in the east-northeast now. It’s a zero magnitude object (bright) but close to the horizon.
Despite Washington’s heat and humidity— and as incredible as it may seem— the Earth and the
sun are at their most distant July 6 at 3:40 p.m., according to the U.S. Naval Observatory, when about 94.5 million miles separate the bodies.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft— launched in 2006— makes its closest approach to Pluto on July 14 and will answer questions about Pluto and its distant neighborhood. “There’s only one Pluto flyby planned in all of history and it’s happening next month,” said Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator, in his June 25 blog. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., designed, built and manages New Horizons for NASA.
The second full moon to occur within a month is a so-called “blue moon.” The first full moon occurs July 1 at 10:20 p.m. here in Washington, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory, while the month’s second full moon— the blue moon— happens July 31 at 6:43 a.m.
And to adjust for irregularities in Earth’s rotation, a leap second will be added June 30, says the U.S. Naval Observatory.
June 30 – “The Hubble Space
l Telescope: The Agony and the Ecstasy,” a lecture by historian Robert Smith of the University of Alberta, at the National Air and Space Museum. 8 p.m. Info:
airandspace.si.edu. Webcast: www.tinyurl.com/qapklnp.
July5– “Cosmic Crashes:
l The Many Facets of Neutron Star
Collisions,” a talk by astronomer Eleonora Troja at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 9 p.m. Scan the night sky through telescopes afterward, weather permitting.
www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse. July 11 – With Venus, Jupiter l and Saturn vying for attention, enjoy “Exploring the Sky,” hosted by the National Capital Astronomers and the National Park Service, at Rock Creek Park, near the Nature Center in the field south of Military and Glover roads NW. 9 p.m.
www.capitalastronomers.org. July 12 – “The Production l and Effects of Gravitational Waves,” a talk by Philip Graff of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, at the regular meeting of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, 163 Research Hall, George Mason University. 7 p.m.
www.novac.com. July 18 – The glory of a dark, l night sky awaits your arrival, as local astronomers and Sean
O’Brien of the National Air and Space Museum will show you. At Sky Meadows State Park near Paris, Va. Parking $5. Arrive before dark. 8-11 p.m. Park phone: 540-592-3556. www.tinyurl.com/q92udac. July 20 – “Galaxies and l Supermassive Black Holes: Frenemies Forever,” a talk by astronomer Laura Blecha at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 9 p.m. Weather permitting, view skies through telescopes afterward. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse. July 24 – Mars Day! Celebrate l our neighboring Red Planet with fun-for-the-whole-family activities. View the planet’s surface in 3-D, see a real Martian meteorite and get a hands-on sense of the planet’s geology. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. National Air and Space Museum. airandspace.si.edu.