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Touring the Skies By Jim Bonser (

July 25, 2019
Northern-Sun Print
Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. I have some farmer friends. They are all different and they definitely don’t fit typical stereotyping of what some might consider ‘typical’ farmers. There is one though, who doesn’t take long to get around to asking, “So how much rain did you get in that shower the other day?”. If it hasn’t rained in a while, he will often say, “We sure could use some rain!” or the opposite if he’s having trouble finding a break to cut and harvest a hay field. Sometimes, I feel a little like my farmer friend. I’m not quite as focused on the rainfall, but I am laser focused on the clouds, and if it isn’t cloudy, it’s the seeing, and if it isn’t the seeing, it’s the Moon! I guess I should keep that in mind when I’m not talking to other amateur astronomers, eh? Nevertheless, July has been poor for imaging and not so great for even simple observing. I helped at a star party at Union Grove lake a couple weeks ago. I took my C8 because I knew we would be looking at Jupiter and Saturn and I wanted to be able to really push the magnification so people could see details in the cloud belts of Jupiter and the magnificent rings of Saturn. Unfortunately, I forgot to grab my dew shield. It was so humid that within ten minutes after removing the cover, the C8 corrector plate was dewed over! The worst part is that as I was putting everything in the car, I saw the dew shield a couple of times and made a mental note each time to not forget to grab that thing and bring it along. So much for mental notes. Ah well, perhaps the weather in August will be favorable for both farmers and astronomers! This month I’m sure there will be a lot of attention given to the Moon since we have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing on July 20th. I have enjoyed watching all of specials about the landings and it has been exciting for me to relive those amazing days. So, let’s follow the Moon this month and let it help us identify some planets and constellations! The month starts just one day after New Moon. To refresh your memory, New Moon is when the Moon lines up between Earth and the Sun. If it is exactly on the line between us and the Sun there would be a solar eclipse but most of the time, it is above or below the Sun and no eclipse occurs which is the case this month for us. Since it is so close to the Sun, we won’t be able to see it on the 1st but if conditions are good: clear skies and little to no haze, you might be able to catch a glimpse of Luna on Friday, August 2nd. It will be a very slender crescent, only about 5% lit. On the 2nd, the Moon will set just a few minutes before 10 PM so you will need to be looking for it around 9:30. If you have a pair, binoculars might help, just be careful to wait until the Sun sets so there is not chance of accidentally pointing them at it which would certainly cause eye damage – even blindness! On the 3rd, the Moon leaves the constellation Leo and enters Virgo. On the 4th, the Moon visits the brightest star in Virgo: Spica. On that night Spica will be about 6 degrees below and to the left of a 32% lit crescent Moon. On the 7th the Moon will be smack dab in the center of Libra making a nice triangle with the stars Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi. On the 8th, the Moon enters Scorpius almost directly to the right of bright Jupiter. The next night a bright waxing gibbous Moon will have just passed over Jupiter and appears about 2 degrees above and to its left. Two nights later on the 11th, the now almost 90% lit Moon is in Sagittarius, about 3.5 degrees to Saturn’s right making a nice triangle with the 2nd magnitude star, Nunki. Whew! The Moon really gets around, doesn’t it? Jupiter and Saturn dominate the southern skies now and I encourage you to get out and enjoy the warm evening air and aim a telescope or at least a good pair of binoculars at both of them. Saturn, especially, is a wonderful sight this month with its magnificent rings. Since it was at opposition last month, it will be appearing earlier and become more prominent in the evening skies as we head for Autumn. The Moon is full this month on the morning of Aug.18th. The skies will finally get dark enough for astrophotography a few days after that. WhooHoo! I hope we have some clear, low humidity nights then so I can enjoy my favorite pastime: imaging God’s beautiful starry skies! Oops! There I go again, sounding like a farmer! Oh, well, clear Skies!


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