Seeing Stars with James Wooten: July 2012

July 2, 2012

Mars remains an evening object. It is in the southwest at dusk and has already entered Virgo, where Saturn also is. This summer, you can watch Mars quickly approach Saturn, which it will pass on August 15.

Saturn is now in the southwest at dusk this month. Saturn is just above the star Spica in Virgo.

Jupiter emerges higher into the morning sky this month. Look for it low in the east/northeast at dawn; it outshines all stars in that direction.

Venus and Jupiter form a brilliant pair in the morning sky as July begins. Venus then pulls away from Jupiter as the month wears on. Still, it is getting higher and higher in the morning sky each day.

sky map july 2012

The Big Dipper is above the North Star, with its handle pointing up. From that handle, you can “arc to Arcturus” and then “speed on to Spica” — those stars are in the west at dusk.  Leo, the Lion, is in the west at dusk.

Antares — brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion — is in the southeast, with the “teapot” of Sagittarius rising behind it. The Summer Triangle has fully risen in the northeast.  The stars of summer are here.

Moon Phases in July 2012:
Full                                 July 3, 1:51 pm
Last Quarter                  July 10, 8:48 pm
New                               July 18, 11:23 pm
1st Quarter                    July 26, 3:56 am

At 10 p.m. Central Time on Wednesday night, July 4, as we celebrate with fireworks, Earth will be at its maximum distance from the Sun (aphelion). However, Earth’s orbit is so nearly circular that the small change in its distance from the Sun has little influence on our seasons. The Earth’s 23.5 degree tilt on its axis is much more important. That’s why we swelter when Earth is farthest from the Sun, but shiver when Earth comes closest (in January).

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement.

During the summer, we have public nights on Fridays as well.  We are also now offering Sun-Day activities, featuring solar observation, on Sundays from noon to 5.

To enjoy the stars in any weather from the comfort of the HMNS Planetarium, click here for a full schedule.

Authored By James Wooten

James is the Planetarium Astronomer at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. He teaches students every school morning in the planetarium, and also answers astronomy questions from the public.

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