Dazzling views of Venus on morning display in July
Planetary motion perseveres as Jupiter and Saturn entertain the evening crowd, and Venus provides morning pageantry. But in the not-too-distant summer, astronomy aficionados will prepare for August’s Americanstyle total solar eclipse.
As the sun sets in the west now, catch Jupiter in the southwest at negative second magnitude. Early in July, the giant planet sets around 1 a.m., and late in the month, it sets after 11 p.m. The young moon scoots over Jupiter on July 28 in the western heavens after sundown.
Saturn hangs high in the southsoutheast after dusk, at zero magnitude, which is bright enough to see for city dwellers. Find the fattening moon sliding over the star Antares — Mars’ visual doppelganger — on July 5, and on the next night, the portly moon bellies up close to Saturn. The ringed planet hangs in the southern sky for most of July in the constellation Ophiuchus, setting generally a few hours before sunrise. NASA’s long Cassini mission will crash into Saturn for a “grand finale” on Sept. 15.
If you’re vacationing at an East Coast beach this month, you’ll catch Venus easily, as the brilliant planet rules the morning sky before sunrise. The spirited planet — bright at negative fourth magnitude — rises around 3 a.m. now, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory, and the sun rises before 6 a.m., so you can glimpse a pre-dawn show.
Throughout the month, Venus and the star Aldebaran dance a tango.
This week as you look east, Venus is far above Aldebaran, which is closer to the horizon. On July 20, see the sliver of a last quarter, crescent moon close to Venus.
Mars returns in September as the Red Planet takes a summer sabbatical in the sun’s glare. Earth reaches aphelion July 3, the most distant spot on its imperfect, annual orbit around the sun.
A total solar eclipse occurs Aug. 21, when a narrow band of shadow — the moon blocks light from the sun — makes its way from northern Oregon via Wyoming, Missouri, Illinois and other states, only to exit through South Carolina. Eclipse enthusiasts no doubt will jam into that 73-mile band to catch totality. The rest of the United States will see varying conditions of a partial solar eclipse.
Eclipse Web resources include greatamericaneclipse.com and NASA’s eclipse2017.nasa.gov, which offers scientific information and interactive maps for feature events. The Naval Observatory has a website that provides local eclipse circumstances throughout the United States. You should also know about eye safety. Protect your eyes, as looking into the sun can make you blind. Down-to-Earth Events:
July 3 — Dream no longer about midsummer nights. Find heavenly reality with the “Stars Tonight” presentation at the David M. Brown Planetarium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Arlington, adjacent to Washington-Lee High School. 7:30 p.m. $3. friendsoftheplanetarium.org.
July 5 — “Kiloscopes!” a talk by astronomer Brian Hicks, on the elaborate and powerful telescopes of the future. At the University of Maryland’s Observatory, College Park. Weather permitting, wander the cosmos through today’s telescopes afterward. 9 p.m. astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
July 8 — In anticipation of the total solar eclipse across America on Aug. 21, learn all about solar eclipses through hands-on activities and other exhibits. At the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. airandspace.si.edu.
July 15 — The National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, offers a fun day of hands-on learning about eclipses, similar to the museum’s July 8 event in Washington. Parking $15. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. airandspace.si.edu.
July 18 — “Remembering John Glenn: The Man and the Legend,” with former Arkansas senator David Pryor, former astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, the museum’s Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History; and journalist Bob Schieffer as panelists. At the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater, National Air and Space Museum. 8 p.m. For tickets: airandspace.si.edu. See it live online: goo.gl/FXs3cu.
July 20 — “Alien Atmospheres Near and Far,” a talk by astronomer Ashlee Wilkins, an exoplanet expert. At the University of Maryland’s Observatory, College Park. View the night sky through telescopes afterward, weather permitting. 9 p.m. astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
July 21 — Rock the red rocky planet. Celebrate Mars Day. While our neighboring planet hides in the sun’s glare until September, learn about the planet through hands-on activities. National Air and Space Museum, the Mall. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. airandspace.si.edu.