Pre­pare to do any blue moon tasks at end of July

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - Fried­lan­der can be reached at postskywatch@ya­

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.

Down-to-Earth events

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: We­b­cast:­klnp.

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.­­house. 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.cap­i­ta­las­ 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.­ 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.­dac. 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.­­house. 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.

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