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Above, an Expedition 41 crew member aboard the International Space Station in September, 2014, flying at an altitude of 222 nautical miles above a point in the Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles off the coast of Africa near the Tropic of Cancer, photographed this epanorama of the night sky and the Milky Way. Image: NASA.

Best Milky Way Views in July


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.

As July begins, four naked eye planets Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, and Saturn can be found in the evening sky after sunset. Look for Mercury as a very bright “star-like” object low in the west about 30 minutes after sunset.

Mars can be seen to the right or north of Mercury. Look for a fairly bright orange “star,” but not as bright as Mercury. To the right of Mars you may be able to spot the two bright stars Castor and Pollux of Gemini the Twins. Binoculars will aid in the search. The young waxing crescent moon is very near Mercury and Mars the nights of July 3 and 4.

Brilliant Jupiter is about halfway up above the horizon in the southeast an hour after sunset. Jupiter appears as a very bright white “star” to the east of the bright red star Antares of Scorpius the Scorpion. The waxing gibbous moon is near Jupiter the nights of July 12 through the 14th.

Saturn is found low in the southeast as darkness falls after sunset. The planet currently resides in the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer and is nearer to Earth this month than any time this year. Look for a fairly bright yellow “star,” this is Saturn. The Full moon will be near Saturn the nights of July 15 and 16.

The waxing crescent moon is very near the bright star Regulus of Leo the Lion on the night of July 5. In the predawn sky of July 27 about an hour before sunrise, sky watchers can locate the waning crescent moon very close to the Pleiades star cluster of Taurus.

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 6 when the moon is not very bright.

The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents free of charge “Faster than Light! The Dream of Interstellar Flight” Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., May 2, and May 21 through June 13, 2019. 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 Carr-Fles Planetarium with state-of-the-art digital projection, sound and lighting systems; all-new library of shows; and modern theater seating and domed ceiling.

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