June 30, 2013

What's Up in July: A month of watching and observing

By BERNIE REIM

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click image to enlarge

SKY GUIDE: This chart represents the sky as it appears over Maine during July. The stars are shown as they look at 10:30 p.m. early in the month, at 9:30 p.m. at midmonth and at 8:30 p.m. at month’s end. Saturn and Venus are shown in their midmonth positions. To use the map, hold it vertically and turn it so that the direction you are facing is at the bottom.

Sky chart prepared by George Ayers

This is a good time to look at Saturn through a telescope because it will be at eastern quadrature on the 24th, which means it will be exactly 90 degrees east of the sun. That means that Saturn's black shadow is now especially wide on its magnificent and extremely thin ring system.

Located 260 light years away from Earth, Spica is a very interesting double star. Both stars are larger and hotter than our sun, and they whirl around each other every 4 days at a distance of just 11 million miles, which is about 10 times closer than the distance to our sun. Even with a large telescope you would only see one star where Spica is. But based on lunar occultations, there could be as many as three more stars in this system, making this a star system where only Spica appears. All the stars are truly much more dynamic than they appear to be and they all hold a myriad of unsolved mysteries, since we still know so little about their true nature and their enormous power and how we could harness it.

Spica's distance places it where the light of the turbulent events leading to our Revolutionary War would now be located. In other words, if someone on a planet around Spica would have a powerful enough telescope to see details on Earth, they would see exactly what was happening in the 1750s, and not just in this country. They would be seeing that right now, this second, but they would be unable to change anything or get a message back to us about exactly what happened.

You can extrapolate that whole scenario to any distance in space and to any other galaxy you would want to choose. If you went to the Andromeda Galaxy, our sister galaxy located about 2.5 million light years away between the constellations of Cassiopeia and Pegasus, you would see exactly what happened on Earth 2.5 million years ago, and you would be seeing that right now, this very second. That illustrates an important principle and starts to give you a better sense of the fourth dimensional space-time continuum that we really live in instead of the very limited three-dimensional world that we appear to live in.

Venus will stay low in our western evening sky, setting just 1.5 hours after sunset for most of the summer. It is only 10 degrees high, or one fist held at arm's length, by the time it is easily visible half an hour after sunset. Watch for a very close conjunction of just over one degree apart of Venus and Regulus in Leo 45 minutes after sunset on the evening of July 22. Watch a slender waxing crescent moon drift past Venus and then Regulus during the evenings of July 10th through the 12th.

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower will peak during the morning hours of July 29. You could only expect about 20 meteors per hour, and some of those will be washed out by the moon, which will be last quarter, meaning that it will rise around midnight. This shower is better in the southern hemisphere, just like the May 4 Eta Aquarid shower, caused by Halley's Comet. The Delta Aquarids are probably caused by Comet 96 p/Machholz, which was just discovered in 1986. Last year at this time, both the comet and the meteor shower it created were visible in the sky at the same time.

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