I’ve just reinstated my column, so let’s see what’s happening in the skies this month!
There’s a New Moon on July 19 so, for awhile, the skies are going to be nice and dark. Ideal for stargazing! In fact this month is full of stargazing goodies so see you in the backyard right after dinner, okay?
With the glare of moonlight gone so many more stars are visible and the colours stand out nicely as well. Watch for a lot of twinkling stars this month due to unsteady air currents and water vapour in the atmosphere. Add in a bit of wind and you start to get a ‘star’ which can change colour and make people wonder if they are seeing a UFO.
After dominating the morning sky for months, bright white Venus, now the ‘morning star,’ is rising above the Eastern horizon around 4am. Pairing up closely with brilliant Jupiter, it makes a magic sight. They’re in the sky all month so check it out, then tell me if that’s not cool!
So, what’s the difference between the morning star and the evening star I hear you ask? Nothing, they’re actually the same thing, namely Venus. The distinction between “morning” and “evening” merely refers to the time at which the planet is visible. Simple isn’t it? And you thought astronomy was hard!
July is the best time to view the Southern Cross. You can always recognize it by the two ‘Pointer’ stars. The bottom one is Alpha Centauri, our closest star, and through a telescope you can see it’s a double star, two stars really close together in the sky. In fact, they are one of the nicest objects to look at through a small telescope.
Have you ever wondered, “What are shooting stars?” ‘Shooting stars’ and ‘falling stars’ are both names that people have used for many hundreds of years to describe meteors, intense streaks of light shooting across the night sky.
If you’re lucky enough to spot a meteorite (a meteor that makes it all the way to the ground), and see where it hits, it’s easy to think you just saw a star “fall.”
Hey, get your umbrella ready for a shower this month. Just kidding, but there is a shower and it‘ll be raining meteorites, the famous Southern Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower radiating out from the constellation Aquarius.
You might see a couple of dozen meteors per hour but you’ll have to be up a few hours before dawn. Sorry, I love to sleep in too! These meteors are usually white with long bluish tails, look towards the east from a dark location and rug up.
The shower usually peaks around July 28 but you’ll definitely spot meteors from July 14. Gotta be patient though, okay? Best viewing is usually to the east after midnight from a dark location. Whew! What a month for stargazers.
David Reneke is a feature writer for major Australian publications including Australasian Science magazine and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Get David’s free astronomy newsletter at www.davidreneke.com