Backyard Stargazer for July 2017

By Francis Parnell

Summer is officially underway; let’s see “what’s up” for July.
At dusk on the 1st, the waxing gibbous Moon forms a broad triangle with bright yellow Jupiter and blue-white “SPICA”, the brightest star in Virgo, in the southwest.

At 4 p.m. on July the 3rd, Earth reaches “Aphelion”, its farthest distance from the Sun this year at 94,505,901 million miles. “Dog Days” also begin on the 3rd and lasts 40 days until August 11th. In the sunny south, it’s the hottest and most humid time of the summer.

All night long on the 6th, golden Saturn shines about 3-degrees below the waxing gibbous Moon.
On the 11th at dawn, white Venus, low in the east, lines up above the “PLEIADES”, an open star cluster, and “ALDEBARAN”, the Eye of Taurus, below it.

At dawn the mornings of the 13th and 14th, Venus is to the upper left of “ALDEBARAN”, the brightest star in Taurus, the Bull.

At dawn on the 20th, look for a slim crescent Moon 4-degrees to the lower right of Venus. And at dusk on the 24th, look for a super thin crescent Moon in the west. You may need binoculars!

A thicker waxing crescent Moon can be found 3-degrees above or upper left of yellow Saturn on the 28th, and 8-degrees to their left is blue-white “SPICA”, the brightest star in Virgo.

This month’s constellation is SCORPIUS”, the Scorpion. Rising in the southeast after dark, it’s a constellation that actually favors its namesake; it even has a stinger! “ANTARES”, the Heart of the Scorpion, is 550 light-years away and is a very large Red Super-Giant star that, at 600,000,000 miles, is 700 times the Sun’s diameter and 17,000 times brighter. For comparison, the Sun’s diameter is 865,374 miles. Because it’s so massive, sometime in the future, ANTARES will explode in a Supernova blast so powerful that it will be visible in the daytime!

Next month we’ll take a look at the “Teapot of Sagittarius” and the steam that rises from the spout.
Through the heat, humidity, and light pollution, “Keep looking up!”

Tips for enjoying the solar eclipse

If you’re like me, you’re looking forward to the total solar eclipse on August 21st. Observing the Sun can be dangerous, so here are some tips to help you safely view this exciting event.

First, if you have a small telescope, DO NOT AIM IT AND ATTEMPT TO VIEW THE SUN without having a safe solar filter; the same for binoculars.

If your small telescope came with a Sun filter that screws into an eyepiece, THROW IT AWAY! They are not safe filters because the heat builds up and they break; you couldn’t move your eye out of the way quickly enough to keep from going blind. A safe solar filter attaches to the front of the telescope or binoculars and reflects 99.999% of the heat and light.

You can also use the Pinhole Projection method to view the eclipse. Make a small hole in a piece of paper and project the image of the Sun onto a piece of white paper, or onto the ground. Watch the image – NOT THE SUN!

If you have a small telescope that came equipped with a solar projection screen, attach it, use the lowest power eyepiece to project the image and observe it – but NOT THE SUN! With this method, cap the finder scope so it can’t be used and aim the telescope by using its shadow on the ground.

The danger of solar observing can’t be emphasized enough. Even if you don’t own a telescope or binoculars, during the partial phase DO NOT STARE AT THE SUN! This goes for adults, but especially kids. It will damage your eyes, or cause blindness. Only during the brief period of totality can we safely look at the fully eclipsed Sun with our naked eyes. (See below for safe solar eclipse glasses.)

Be sure to visit the NASA website for more information on how to safely observe the total eclipse at: eclipse2017. nasa .gov/safety

Also check out these websites to purchase safe solar eclipse glasses, filters, etc.

Rainbow Symphony (www. rainbowsymphony. com), Astronomy magazine (www. astronomy. com), Celestron telescopes (www. celestron. com), Meade Instruments (www. meade. com).

Clear skies for the total solar eclipse!

Francis Parnell of Darlington has been an amateur astronomer for over 46 years, and was on the staff and helped out at the Francis Marion University Observatory from 1982 until 2006 by showing visitors “what’s out there.” With the help of a friend, Mr. Ernest Lowry, he built his own telescope in 1986. And, because of light pollution, for the last 31 years he has been advocating for the advantages of using fully-shielded lighting at night.

Author: mrollins

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