Daz­zling views of Venus on morn­ing dis­play in July

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BLAINE FRIED­LAN­DER SkyWatchPost@gmail.com

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.

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