Culture

The Sky Above You – July 2020

By Duncan Lunan

Star map July 2020The Moon will be Full on July 5th, and it will be New on July 20th.  On the morning of 5th July there is a penumbral lunar eclipse, possibly too faint to be noticeable  (setting during the event), and on 18th July the Moon occults the Crab Nebula in Taurus between 3.25 a.m. and 4.25 a.m..

The planet Mercury is at inferior conjunction on this side of the Sun on July 1st, and reappears in the morning sky in the last week of July, after reaching greatest elongation from the Sun on the 22nd, and rising about 4 a.m..

Venus also reappears in the morning sky, rising about 2.30 a.m., at its maximum brightness on the 10th.   Venus passes through the Hyades cluster, nearing Aldebaran, the brightest star there, on the night of July 11-12th.   Venus is to the left of the Moon as it passes below the Hyades and Pleiades on July 17th.

Mars is in Pisces, rising about midnight in July and brighter than Saturn, not yet as bright as Jupiter.  The Moon is near Mars on July 12th.   A small fleet of spacecraft is due to take off for Mars in July, including the NASA Mars 2020 rover ‘Perseverance’, and the first Mars missions from China and the United Arab Emirates.  The joint European-Russian ExoMars rover, named ‘Rosalind Franklin’ after the crystallographer whose work enabled the mapping of the DNA molecule, has been postponed till 2022 because of problems with the parachutes and delays caused by coronavirus.   However ESA has exciting plans for a 2026 rover nicknamed ‘Fetch’, which will collect samples gathered by Perseverance and deliver them to a small rocket for return to Earth.

The Moon is near Jupiter on July 5th, and Jupiter is at opposition in Sagittarius, due south at midnight GMT, on July 14th, at its closest to Earth for the year on night of the 15th/16th, when the innermost of the large satellites, Io, will transit the disc of the planet, followed by its shadow, starting around 3 a.m..At midnight on 8th/9th July all four of the large ‘Galilean moons’ will be to the left of the planet, and all of them to the right on 9th/10th,while two of them will flank the planet on each side on the night of July 19th/20th.

The Moon is near Saturn on July 6th, and the planet is close to Jupiter throughout this quarter, at opposition on July 20th.Saturn grows brighter for two days either side of opposition  (Seeliger effect), as the shadow of the planet disappears and the ring particles themselves reflect more light towards us.

For the record, Pluto is also near Jupiter, and comes to opposition on July 15th, but is only visible in powerful telescopes.

Uranus reappeared in Aries in June, rising about 00.30 a.m. in July.

Neptune in Aquarius rises about 11 p.m. in July.

Twilight persists throughout the night here in Scotland during June and July, providing a good opportunity to look for mysterious noctilucent clouds in the north, floating high in the atmosphere and lit by sunlight from below the horizon.   Most guides to the sky say they’re ice crystals, but they’re too high up to be ‘normal’ ice, and since they reflect sunlight perfectly no-one knows for sure what they are.

Download:  July 2020 map

Star map July 2020Duncan Lunan’s latest book “From the Moon to the Stars”, a collection of space travel stories old and new relating to the Moon and Project Apollo, illustrated by Sydney Jordan, is now available from the publishers at https://othersidebooks.wordpress.com, as well as on Amazon or through booksellers;  details of that and his other books are on Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.

Related story: Celtic Cosmos: ‘Space and Science Fiction’

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