July 1, 2022: This morning Venus passes Aldebaran in the east-northeast before sunrise. In the evening, the thin crescent moon approaches the Sickle of Leo.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:20 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:30 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
This is the last day for the latest sunset time that began June 22. Daylight has already lost four minutes since the solstice over a week ago. By month’s end, daylight is shortened to 44 minutes. Sunset slides back to 8:10 p.m. CDT in Chicago.
This morning is the Venus – Aldebaran conjunction. Venus continues to step eastward, now passing the stars of Taurus.
One hour before sunrise, find the Morning Star about 8° above the east-northeast horizon. The bright star Capella is 27.0° to the upper left of Venus.
Can you find Aldebaran, 4.1° to the lower right of Venus? If it’s not visible to the unaided eye, try a binocular. The Hyades star cluster might be visible as well.
Venus continues to open a gap to the four morning planets. This morning the Venus – Saturn gap is over 105°. When the gap to Saturn opens to 180°, Saturn sets as Venus rises. The Venus – Saturn opposition occurs August 28, leaving three planets in the morning parade.
At this hour, Saturn is about one third of the way up in the southern sky. Saturn is the dimmest of the four bright planets in the sky this morning. It is retrograding in eastern Capricornus, near the star Deneb Algedi.
Earth is quickly overtaking Saturn, passing between the planet and the sun on August 14. The Ringed Wonder appears farther westward each morning as Earth catches up, but Venus is speeding away from Earth. The combination of movements widens the gap each morning.
Bright Jupiter and Mars are between Saturn and Venus. The Jovian Giant is easily observed about 40° up in the southeast at this hour, while Mars is marching eastward and away from Jupiter after their conjunction at the end of May. The Red Planet is nearly 20° to the lower left of Jupiter, about one-third of the way to Venus.
Seemingly, Mars is too dim as we perceive it as a bright star in the sky since it is so close to Earth. The planet is small and somewhat non-reflective, resulting in a dim planet in the sky. This morning Mars is 120 million miles away from us, while Jupiter is nearly four times that distance.
Watch the gaps continue to open, Venus to Saturn and Mars to Jupiter.
Forty-five minutes after sunset, the crescent moon, 8% illuminated, is nearly 15° up in the west-northwest. It is among the dim stars of Cancer, but they are difficult to see. The Beehive star cluster is in the same binocular field as the moon, but its low place in the sky makes for a difficult study.
The moon is exhibiting earthshine – sunlight reflected from Earth’s oceans, land, and clouds, that gently lights the lunar night.
The star Regulus, over 20° up in the west, is 18.3° to the upper left of the lunar crescent. It is part of Leo’s head, also known as the Sickle of Leo – a farmer’s curved cutting tool.
After the end of evening twilight, about two hours after sunset, look to the eastern sky. The Summer Triangle – Vega, Altair, and Deneb – is there. Each week it is farther westward. By late fall the triangle is low in the western sky.
Here in early summer is how the three stars received their informal name – Summer Triangle. The pattern is in the eastern sky as night falls.
Vega is the third brightest star visible from the mid- northern latitudes, after Sirius and Arcturus. It’s sapphire-white color indicates a high temperature. It’s only 25 light years away and shines with an intensity of nearly 50 suns.
Like the planets, the sun and other stars revolve around the center of the Milky Way galaxy, taking over 200 million years for one galactic orbit. The sun and solar system are at a distance of 27,000 light years from the likely black hole residing at the galaxy’s core.
When we look into the night sky, the sun’s revolution around the galaxy is generally toward Vega. The spot we are heading is to the southwest of the star, in the constellation Hercules.
Vega is the bright jewel in the diminutive constellation Lyra the Harp, made of six stars that can be seen from most backyards. The pattern looks like a parallelogram connected to a triangle.
Epsilon Lyrae (ε Lyr on the chart) is sometimes referred to as the “double – double” star. Through a binocular, the single star breaks into two stars – a double star. Through a telescope, each of those stars is a double star, a double – double.
The remnants of an exploded star are visible between Sulafat and Sheliak. Cataloged as Messier 57 (M 57 on the chart) and known as the Ring Nebula, the relic resembles a faint smoke ring through a telescope.
Astronomical theories predict that some sunlike stars burst open when they are nearing the end of their stellar lives. The core is no longer hot enough to fuse simple atomic nuclei into more complex matter and the gravity is not strong enough to hold the outer layers in place. Unlike a supernova of heavier stars that explode and scatter their shattered remains into space, these stars kind of hiccup and send their layers outward. The hot core, known as a white dwarf, remains at the center. The cinder retains mass that is about equal to the sun, but is crushed into a globe the size of Earth.
Some observers call that white dwarf, the nebula’s central star. My observing colleagues have searched for telescope sites with no street lights or the glow of nearby cities to attempt to see that faint star.
Through telescopes with cameras to capture the nebula’s faint light, long time exposure photographs capture the expanding gas that was once the star’s layers along with that central star.
September 9, 2022: Mars continues its eastward march through the bright starfields of Taurus. The Harvest Moon is between Jupiter and Saturn after sunset.Keep reading
September 8, 2022: Three bright planets – Venus, Mars, and Jupiter – are visible before sunrise. Mars continues its eastward march in Taurus. After sundown, the bright moon is near Saturn.Keep reading
September 7, 2022: Mars passes Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, this morning. The conjunction’s gap is 4.3°. This evening, the bright moon is near Saturn.Keep reading