July 2, 2022: The four bright morning planets – Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – continue to parade through the morning. After sunset, the crescent moon is near 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.
The four morning planets continue their parade in the eastern sky. The gap between them continues to widen. Venus steps eastward away from Aldebaran after yesterday’s conjunction.
An hour before sunrise, Venus is about 8° up in the east-northeast. The Pleiades star cluster is over 12° to the upper right of the Morning Star. The star Capella – meaning “the little she-goat” – is to the left of the Pleiades and nearly 27° to the upper left of Venus.
After yesterday’s conjunction, Aldebaran – over 6° above the horizon – is 4.3° to the lower right of Venus. Can you see it without a binocular? With the binocular’s optical assist, look for the Hyades star cluster near Aldebaran.
This morning the Venus – Saturn gap widens to nearly 107°.
The three other planets – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are strung across the sky from east-southeast to south.
Bright Jupiter is about 40° above the southeast horizon. It slowly moving eastward in the constellation Cetus the Sea Monster. Dimmer Mars is over 20° to the lower left of the Jovian Giant, about one-third of the way to Venus.
Saturn, about 30° above the southern horizon, is retrograding in eastern Capricornus and nearly 43° from Jupiter. Saturn is near the star Deneb Algedi – meaning “the kid’s tail.”
An hour after sunset, the crescent moon, 14% illuminated, is over 15° above the western horizon, near the stars of Leo, the westward-facing Lion.
Early during this lunar cycle, earthshine is easy to spot and photograph on the moon’s night portion. This effect is from sunlight reflected from Earth’s features.
Leo is made up of a backwards question mark, known as the “Sickle of Leo” and a triangle.
Regulus, the fifteenth brightest star that is visible from the mid-northern latitudes, is nearly 80 light years away and shines with the intensity of 275 suns. Its name means “the prince.”
Regulus is the closest bright star to the plane of the solar system. In this place, the planets and moon pass nearby. It is behind the sun on August 23 and then begins to appear in the morning sky before sunrise during the waning days of summer.
Denebola, at the western end of the triangle, means “the lion’s tail.”
Later tonight, the moon covers the star Eta Leonis (η Leo on the chart) across a large swath of the eastern hemisphere, including parts of Australia, China, India, Russia, the Middle East, and Europe.
As the sky darkens further, the Summer Triangle – Vega, Altair, and Deneb – is about halfway up in the eastern sky.
Deneb, slightly brighter than Regulus, makes the northern corner of the triangle. Its name means “the hen’s tail.” The star is part of Cygnus the Swan. The stick figure seems to be flying southward.
Later during autumn nights, the Swan is high in the sky and seems to be flying southward, perhaps in some way symbolic of the impending southern bird migration. When high in the sky, the bird is embedded in the band of the Milky Way.
While Deneb is the fourteenth brightest star in the northern skies, it is one of the most luminous stars in our part of the galaxy. It shines with the intensity of about 90,000 suns. Orion’s Rigel has the same intrinsic brightness.
Sometimes Cygnus is known as the Northern Cross. Deneb is at the top of the cross, while Albireo is at the base or the nose of the Swan. Ask your neighborhood sky watcher to show you this star through their telescope. It is a double star, likely the best one to show contrasting star colors, sapphire and gold.
Cygnus X-1, a suspected stellar black hole, is located midway along the Swan’s body. Its presence was first detected when a rocket propelled x-ray detectors above Earth’s protective atmosphere in 1964. Other satellites provided additional data to suggest a black hole.
A blue star is revolving around an unseen mass. This mass seems to be pulling gases from the star’s outer layers. The gases are captured in a disk – somewhat resembling Saturn’s rings. They slowly disappear into the black hole. The temperatures in the region are hot enough to generate x-rays.
The North America Nebula is to the lower left of Cygnus at this hour. It is a mixture of faintly glowing gas with dark dust outlining it in the shape of the continent. This is very difficult to see without a light-free spot, an exceptionally clear sky, and the nebula high. It is mentioned here because photographs of nebula are frequently display in the popular media.
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