Sky Watch: July 2013

Our galaxy, the Milky Way. Credit: NASA

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Here are the monthly sky watch highlights. Each month, we share the wonders of the universe to help you explore the night sky from your own backyard. (Note: Times listed below are ET.)

July 2013

by Bob Berman, as featured in
The Old Farmer's Almanac

Use binoculars to see Venus, still just 10 degrees high in front of the Beehive star cluster in Cancer, as twilight fades just before fireworks begin on the 4th. Earth reaches its aphelion, its annual farthest point from the Sun, on the 5th. The Moon sits next to Virgo’s blue star Spica on the 15th and dangles just below Saturn in the southwest on the 16th. Returning Jupiter is now in its new home of Gemini in the eastern sky during the start of morning twilight, as it passes to the right of dim orange Mars from the 20th to the 22nd. Venus slides closely above Leo’s brightest star, blue Regulus, from the 21st to the 23rd.

Sky Map July 2013

by Jeff DeTray

Visit Jeff's site at AstronomyBoy.com

Astronomer Jeff DeTray has created the sky map below to help you navigate the June sky.

This month's highlight: I'm a little Teapot.

Summer is the best chance for observers in the Northern Hemisphere to see the interesting constellation Sagittarius, the Archer. When you look in the direction of Sagittarius, you are also looking toward the very heart of our Milky Way Galaxy. Sagittarius sits low, near the horizon, for Northern Hemisphere observers, so you will need a viewing location with a clear and unobstructed southern view.

The brightest stars of Sagittarius form an asterism (unofficial star pattern) known as the Teapot, outlined in pink on this month's sky map. The Teapot is quite distinctive, and once you see it, the shape will jump out at you whenever Sagittarius is visible in the sky. The Teapot illusion is further enhanced by the whispy clouds of stars around the "spout" area. These star clouds resemble the steam rising from the boiling water in the Teapot. You should be able to see the stars of the Teapot from a suburban location, but you'll need a dark rural site to see the "steam."

Just to the right of the Teapot's spout is the direction in which the center of the Milky Way lies. It is marked on the map with a green cross. We can't see all the way to the galactic center with our unaided eyes; dust and stars obscure the view. However, astronomers with powerful instruments have confirmed that an enormous Black Hole lurks there and contains as much mass as 4 to 5 billion Suns.

If you have binoculars, use them to scan the Sagittarius region. It is filled with bright patches of glowing gas, clouds of stars, and dark blobs of interstellar dust. It's one of the busiest and most beautiful areas of the whole sky when viewed through binoculars.

To the right of Sagittarius is the Fish Hook shape of the constellation Scorpius, the Scorpian. The Fish Hook portion of Scorpius -- outlined in blue -- represents the body, tail, and stinger of the Scorpian. The bright star Antares represents the Heart of the Scorpian and has a pale reddish-orange color.

On the night for which the sky map is drawn, July 16, the Moon and the planet Saturn will be fairly close together in the constellation Virgo, the Virgin. On subsequent nights, the Moon will move steadily Eastward, passing through Scorpius until the nearly Full Moon is sitting directly above the Teapot on the night of July 20.

Finally, while we are gazing upon this part of the sky, it's worth noting the unusual constellation Serpens, the Serpent. It is the only one of the 88 constellations that is split into two parts. Serpens Caput is the head of the Serpent, and Serpens Cauda is its tail. In mythology, the two parts of the Serpent are in the hands of Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, the large constellation in the middle of this month's sky map.

Sky Map: Click to View PDF

July 2013 Sky Map

Sky map produced using Chris Marriott's Skymap Pro

Explore the sky night from your own backyard. A printable black and white map is provided below!

July 2013 Sky Map PrintableClick for Printable Sky Map (PDF)
Just click, print, and bring outside!

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Comments

It is August 21st at 10:43pm.

By MaMagic

It is August 21st at 10:43pm. I live in northern virginia, USA. I just saw a meteor that was bright red with a red tail. It is 10 days past the last meteor shower. Was this meteor a straggler or did this one come out of nowhere?
Thank you

Although you refer to "August

By jdetray

Although you refer to "August 21st," I think you probably mean July 21st.

In any case, you will nearly always see a few meteors on any dark, clear night. These so-called "sporadic" meteors can come from any direction, while meteors associated with a shower will always appear to be moving away from a particular point in the sky.

The odds are that you saw a sporadic meteor of the "fireball" type. Fireballs can be quite colorful and often leave a trail that persists for a short time after the meteor itself has disappeared.

Jeff DeTray
http://www.AstronomyBoy.com

Hi Ben, The meteor you saw

By jdetray

Hi Ben,
The meteor you saw was reported by at least one other observer in Wales. There are no indications that any part of the meteor reached the ground. It is quite likely that lots of people saw this meteor.

A meteor such as you describe is often called a "fireball" and was probably caused by an object smaller than a cricket ball (or baseball) and possibly as small as a pebble. Many such objects strike the Earth's atmosphere every day. They are too small to pose any danger and are also far to small to be spotted ahead of time. The first we know of them is when they enter the atmosphere and burn up.

Congratulations on seeing such a spectacular meteor!

Jeff DeTray
Astronomy Boy
http://www.AstronomyBoy.com

hello there.I was on my way

By ben strevens

hello there.I was on my way home in Swansea south wales last night(Friday) and at about eleven minutes past midnight while looking south west there was the most incredible very large meteor ive ever seen in my life,it had a huge shimmering trail and travelled from left to right quite low in the sky.
Was this witnessed by others?...Was this meteor known about?...it looked like a pretty near miss!

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