BACKYARD STARGAZER: Night sights during dog days

By Francis Parnell

In July we can look forward to a close pairing of Venus and Mars, the Moon playing celestial tag with a few planets, and hot, sultry weather starting on the 3rd. The ancient Greeks named the 40 days from July 3 to Aug. 11 “Dog Days.” They believed the combined heat from both the Sun and the bright star Sirius, the Dog Star, along with the terrible humidity, drove dogs mad. On the 5th at 6 p.m. EDT, Earth is at Aphelion, its greater distance from the Sun all year at 94,510,886 miles. Looking west 45 minutes after sunset on the 11th, spot dazzling Venus with dimmer red Mars about 1 degree to the left. A very thin crescent Moon is 4 degrees right of the pair. Binoculars give a great view of this celestial show. On the 12th, 45 minutes after sunset, Venus is just above right of Mars and the two are only one-half degree apart with the slightly thicker crescent Moon upper left. Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, the Lion, is left of the Moon. On the 13th after sunset, find Venus above Mars with the lunar crescent upper left with Regulus halfway between. Looking southwest 45 minutes before sunrise on the 24th, spot the Moon one day past full with Saturn about 8 degrees above it. Before dawn on the 25th, the waning gibbous Moon is positioned between the gas giants, with Saturn lower right and bright Jupiter upper left. At dawn on the 26th, the Moon has moved along its orbit and now Jupiter is about 6 degrees to the right. Stay cool during Dog Days and “Keep looking up!”

Author: Rachel Howell

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