Indiana University Bloomington

Star Trak: July 2014

  • July 1, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- At the beginning of July, the first planet to appear as the evening sky darkens will be Jupiter, lingering 5 degrees above the west-northwestern horizon a half hour after sunset. It will be a half degree lower each evening, disappearing from view early in the month as it passes behind the sun.

As twilight fades, Mars will appear in the southwest. On July 13, the orange planet will have a conjunction with white Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. Mars will pass about 1 degree north of the star. The pretty pair will look best through binoculars or a telescope. As the two objects approach each other on July 5, the moon will pass between them.

Saturn will appear at about the same elevation as Mars at dusk in the southwestern sky. The yellow planet will be midway between Mars and the bright orange star Antares to the east. By 10 p.m. local time, Saturn will be about 30 degrees above the horizon, and it won’t set until after midnight, offering observers with telescopes a couple of hours of viewing on a clear night. Seen through a telescope, Saturn’s rings will be tilted 21 degrees to our line of sight this month. The planet's largest moon, Titan, will be visible with any telescope.

Venus will rise in the east-northeast at the start of morning twilight throughout July. By sunrise it will be only 20 degrees high for observers around 40 degrees north latitude, but it is so bright that it will still be easy to spot.

Mercury will be too low and faint in morning twilight to be visible early in the month. Then it will brighten quickly, reaching its greatest height about 7 degrees above the east-northeastern horizon 45 minutes before sunrise July 12. It will appear closest to Venus on July 16, first approaching and then withdrawing without passing the much brighter planet.

Meteor shower

The southern branch of the Delta Aquarid meteor shower will peak before dawn July 30. The moon will be a few days past new, so viewing conditions should be good in a clear sky. About 15 meteors per hour will be visible, and they will appear several nights before and after the peak as well. The long bright streaks will seem to come from a point in the constellation Aquarius in the southern sky during the hours just before morning twilight.

Aphelion

On July 3, Earth will reach its greatest distance from the sun for the year, called aphelion. Those sweltering in summer heat in the Northern Hemisphere may find it hard to believe they are about 3 percent farther from the sun than they were in January. Those experiencing winter in the Southern Hemisphere will not be surprised to hear that. But the difference is actually caused by the tilt of Earth's axis. The part of the planet tilted toward the sun (in this case the Northern Hemisphere) is much warmer than the part tilted away, because more sunlight reaches the ground instead of being absorbed by the atmosphere.

Moon phases

The moon will at first quarter on July 5, full on July 12, at third quarter on July 19 and new on July 26.

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Hal Kibbey

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  • hkibbey@indiana.edu