Above, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter acquired this closeup image of a "fresh" (on a geological scale, though quite old on a human scale) impact crater in the Sirenum Fossae region of Mars on March 30, 2015. This month, the planet Mars is closer to the Earth than it has been since 2003. Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.
Mars is Close and Milky Way Clear This Month
BY JONATHAN TRUAX, ASTRONOMER, MUSKEGON COMMUNITY COLLEGE'S CARR-FLES PLANETARIUM
This month, clear skies are frequent and contain many interesting sights for sky watchers including some of the best views of the Milky Way if you observe away from the city lights.
During July, the five naked eye planets Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, and Venus can be found in the evening sky after sunset. Look for Venus as a very bright “star-like” object low in the west about an hour after sunset. The waxing crescent moon is close to Venus the nights of July 15 and 16.
Mercury can be seen lower right or northwest of Venus most of the month. Look for a fairly bright white “star.” The young waxing crescent moon is very near Mercury the night of July 14.
Brilliant Jupiter is about halfway up above the horizon in the southwest an hour after sunset. Jupiter appears as a very bright white “star” to the east of the bright star Spica of Virgo the Virgin. The waxing gibbous moon is near Jupiter the nights of July 19 through the 21st.
Saturn is found low in the southeast as darkness falls after sunset. The planet currently resides in the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer. Look for a fairly bright yellow “star,” this is Saturn. The nearly Full moon will be near Saturn the nights of July 24 and 25.
During July, the planet Mars is closer to the Earth than it has been since 2003. The planet rises in the southeast at sunset, and is well up for observing by local midnight. Mars currently resides among the stars of Capricornus the Sea goat. Look for a brilliant red “star” brighter than Jupiter low in the southeast after sunset. By dawn the planet is found low in the southwest setting. The Full moon is just to the north of Mars on the night of the 27th.
As darkness falls after sunset this month, high in the northwest, locate the “Big Dipper” formed by the stars of Ursa Major. High in the western sky nearly overhead, locate Arcturus of Bootes, the brightest star of summer. Low in the southwest, just west of the bright star Spica, look for a trapezoid-shaped pattern of stars forming Corvus the Crow. Low in the southeast, locate the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion, marked by the bright star Antares.
Rising high in the Eastern sky locate three bright stars all blue or white in color, forming the “Summer Triangle.” Low and to the northeast is Deneb, of Cygnus the Swan. Higher in the east is Vega, of Lyra the Harp. Furthest south of the trio is Altair, of Aquila the Eagle. By dawn the “Summer Triangle” can be found just west of overhead.
This month after sunset, the summer Milky Way stretches from low in the south, through the eastern sky, down to the northeast horizon. For the best views of the Milky Way, observe away from city lights and on the nights before July 16 when the moon is not very bright.
The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents free of charge “Oasis in Space” Tuesdays and Thursdays, August 28 through October 30, at 7:00 p.m. Visit the MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium website for upcoming events and call (231) 777-0289 for sky show information. Carr-Fles Planetarium is located on the Muskegon Community College campus in Room 135. Thanks to the generosity of the Reach for the Stars campaign donors, you can now experience the all-new Carr-Fles Planetarium, featuring state-of-the-art digital projection, sound and lighting systems; all-new library of shows; and modern theater seating and domed ceiling.