Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, July 4, 2014.
Happy Fourth of July. And we have fireworks (of a sort) in the
Star of the Week, 5 Serpentis.
But first enjoy the peacefulness of the orbiting Moon. The night of Friday, July 11,
sees the Moon in the last of its waxing
crescent phase, as first quarter is
passed on Saturday the 5th. The Moon then brightens through the
waxing gibbous phase, which ends at full Moon the morning of Saturday the 12th
about the time of Moonset in North America. Though the waxing
Moon washes out the stars it's always a
pleasure to watch.
In celebration of the week, we get to see two marvelous planetary
pairings. The night of the Fourth, the Moon will be to the west
while the following evening, that of Saturday the 5th, the quarter
Moon will brush just barely to the south of the red planet with Spica a bit to the east, the three
presenting a fine sight. The night of Sunday the 6th, the growing
Moon will be between Mars and Saturn, and
then the night of Monday the 7th remarkably does the same thing
with Saturn as it did earlier with Mars. The evening of Tuesday
the 8th finds our companion making a flat triangle with Saturn to
the west and Antares of Scorpius to the southeast.
From the above, the evening sky obviously holds two of the naked-
eye planets. (While
Uranus is technically visible to the unaided eye, it's tough
to find. It was discovered telescopically by William Herschel in 1781.) Both Mars and
Saturn are in the southwest as evening falls. The westerly of the
two, Mars, which sets just before local midnight, is just
northwest of Spica in Virgo and
will pass due north of the star on July 12. Saturn closely
maintains its place in Libra a
bit to the northeast of Zubenelgenubi and sets a little
over an hour later. The morning sky holds the two inner planets.
Venus rises in
the northwest at the first glimmer of dawn, while Mercury does not come close
to making it out of bright twilight and is at best hard to spot
For those in mid-temperate northern latitudes, Scorpius, the Scorpion, lurks in late
evening just above the southern horizon with the red supergiant Antares at its heart. Immediately
above it are the scattered stars of Ophiuchus, who is enwrapped with Serpens, and on top of these Hercules with its distinctive "Keystone." The stack is topped by
the head of Draco, the celestial
dragon, which passes nearly overhead.