BACKYARD STARGAZER: In July, the giants dominate the night sky

Francis Parnell

By Francis Parnell

During July, the solar system’s largest gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, dominate the night sky.
On the 1st, Jupiter and Saturn are 6 degrees apart and shining above the southeastern horizon. Saturn is to the left of bright yellow Jupiter.
At 7:35 a.m. on the 4th, Earth is at aphelion, its greatest distance from the Sun all year at 94,507,635 miles.
Between 10 and 11 p.m. on the 5th, the waning gibbous Moon is below Jupiter and Saturn forming a neat celestial triangle.
Just before dawn on the 11th, and in the southeastern sky, the waning gibbous Moon and red Mars are less than 6 degrees apart. Look to the east to spot bright Venus 1 degree upper left of Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, the Bull.
Rising at sunset on the 14th, Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system at 88,846 miles, is at opposition, 384,837,040 miles away (35 light-minutes). In astronomy, “opposition” means that Earth has gone around the Sun and caught up with an outer planet putting it directly opposite the Sun in our night sky.
We catch up with Jupiter every 398.9 days, and Saturn every 378.1 days.
Thirty minutes before sunrise on the 17th, Venus is 3 degrees right of the waning crescent Moon. Aldebaran is about 6 degrees to the upper right of Venus.
Also rising at sunset on the 20th, everyone’s favorite, the ringed planet Saturn, is at opposition at 836,137,484 miles away (35 light-minutes). Saturn’s diameter is 74,897 miles, while the rings are about 175,000 miles in width.
At dusk on the 29th, the waxing gibbous Moon is 5 degrees from the red supergiant Antares, the heart of the Scorpion.
Enjoy summer, stay safe and “Keep looking up!”

Author: Stephan Drew

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