Comet NEOWISE appears with the moon in July’s morning planet parade.
More about the comet, planets and moon on July 14, click here.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Comet NEOWISE appears in the morning sky during twilight this morning in the northeast.
The comet (formally known as Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE) is now appearing in the evening sky as well as making its mark in the morning sky.
Comets are orbiting icebergs. They travel around the sun in elongated orbits. When near the sun, the solar energy vaporizes the ices. Solar wind – a stream of particles from the sun – drives the gasses and dust into space.
The intense sunlight fractures many comets into smaller pieces. Comet NEOWISE survived its close solar passage and it is the summer surprise with the July morning planet parade that stars Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter.
Mercury joins the planet parade beginning July 19, when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously with the moon, about 45 minutes before sunrise.
The thick crescent moon appears to the lower left of Mars this morning. The image above uses a roofline to block the moon’s light so that the starry background is visible.
Mars is marching eastward in the constellation Cetus. This region of the sky does not have many bright stars. A binocular is helpful to watch Mars appear farther east among the stars each morning.
This morning, Mars 0.8° is to the upper left of dim 14 Ceti (14 Cet on the photo). Notice that it is also east of 10 Ceti (10 Cet) and to the lower left of 44 Piscium (44 Psc).
Mars continues to move eastward until early September. Afterwards it appears to move westward – retrograde – compared to the background stars. Earth passes between the sun and Mars on October 13, 2020. This is known as opposition.
Jupiter is at opposition tomorrow. It rises in the eastern sky at sunrise and sets in the western sky at sunrise.
This morning, Jupiter, along with Saturn, is in the southwest. Saturn is at opposition on July 20.
The planets are retrograding in eastern Sagittarius. The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.7°. Their separation widens until September when they reverse their apparent direction. Jupiter closes in and passes Saturn in a Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.
These conjunctions occur about every 19.6 years because these planets move slowly around the sun.
In the starfield this morning, Jupiter is 3.3° to the lower right of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr). Saturn is 3.8° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap). Each morning compare the positions of the planets to the reference stars.
At least one of the four largest Jovian moons is visible in the image – Callisto.
The “star” of the morning planet parade is brilliant Venus. It is visible low in the east-northeast, in front of the stars of Taurus the Bull. The brighter star Aldebaran and dimmer stars (Hyades star cluster) seem to form a sideways “V” that makes the head of the Bull. Aldebaran represents the bull’s eye.
This morning, the planet is 1.2° to the left of Aldebaran.
In a few mornings (July 17) the moon appears with Venus and Aldebaran. With the Pleiades in view, this will be a picturesque scene!
Here’s more about the planets during July.