July 4, 2022: Earth is at aphelion today. The four morning planets are visible before sunrise. The waxing crescent moon is in the west after sunset.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:21 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:29 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Earth is at aphelion – its farthest point from the sun – at 2:11 a.m. CDT. At this time we are over 94,500,000 miles away from our central star.
Four bright planets are visible before daybreak. Begin looking at least an hour before sunrise to find dimmer Saturn and Mars before they begin to fade into the brightening twilight.
Start in the south. At one hour before sunrise, Saturn is about 30° up in the southern sky. It is retrograding in eastern Capricornus, near Deneb Algedi and Nashira. As the planet seems to move westward compared to this stellar pair, note their locations each week. A binocular is helpful.
Bright Jupiter is over 40° up in the southeast and nearly 45° from Saturn. It is the second brightest star in the sky this morning.
Dimmer Mars, marching eastward in Pisces, is over 30° up in the east-southeast and over 20° to the lower left of the Jovian Giant. The Red Planet is about one-third of the way from Jupiter to Venus.
The Morning Star is low in the east-northeast, about 9° up. Notice the star Aldebaran, 5.5° to the lower right of the planet. Do not confuse Venus with Capella, the bright star 20° up in the northeast. It is about the same altitude as the Pleiades star cluster, 14.3° to the upper right of Venus.
This display of morning planets continues for about the next six weeks. This morning, the Venus – Saturn gap is nearly 109°. Venus quickly steps eastward while Saturn appears farther west each morning. Saturn sets as Venus rises later next month, leaving three bright planets. Before Saturn sets, it is visible with Mars and Jupiter. After the Ring Wonder sets, Venus is visible with the pair.
This is the third evening the crescent moon appears in front of the stars of Leo, a westward facing lion tipped toward the western horizon as night falls. We see the constellation in silhouette, made from a backwards question mark – known as the Sickle of Leo – and a triangle.
Regulus, meaning “the prince” – is at the bottom of the sickle, while Denebola – meaning “the lion’s tail” – dots the eastern end of the triangle.
The moon continues to brighten each evening. Tonight, it is 30% illuminated. Look carefully on the ground around your observing spot. The moon’s light is bright enough to illuminate the ground and cast shadows.
The moon’s evening earthshine show is wrapping up. This effect is reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land. While we see the moon 30% illuminated, Earth’s phase is 70% illuminated from the lunar surface. Earth’s reflection is diminishing as the moon’s phase grows.
At about two hours after the Summer Triangle is in the eastern sky. Vega is high in the east, while Deneb is in the east-northeast. The third star is Altair, visible low in the east-southeast.
At this hour the moon is lower in the west. Two small constellations are near Altair – Delphinus and Sagitta.
Delphinus the Dolphin is a tiny, dimmer constellation, but its diamond shape is easily identified to the lower left (east) of Altair. The shape makes its body and the tail curves downward. From locations with an overabundance of street lights, the pattern easily fits into a binocular field of view.
The Arrow, Sagitta, is higher in the sky, to the upper left of Altair. Like the Dolphin, this pattern fits into a binocular.
An interesting unraveling star, known as the Dumbbell Nebula and cataloged as Messier 27 (M27 on the chart), is to the upper left of the arrow’s tip in the constellation Vulpecula the Fox.
M27 is known as a planetary nebula. No. it’s not planets in formation. Rather, it is a sunlike star in the final phases of its stellar life. Unlike heavy stars that explode and shine brightly for weeks or months, smaller mass stars sort of hiccup and shed their outer layers, leaving a hot, dense core – known as a white dwarf.
Through a telescope, the Dumbbell looks like a dim soap bubble. Photography captures details and colors. These are not visible to the human eye, even through a telescope.
These constellations are visible during evening hours throughout summer and autumn.
- 2023, December 28: Gemini Moon, Morning Star, Jupiter, SaturnDecember 28, 2023: The bright moon is near Pollux, one of the Gemini Twins. Venus is in the southeast before sunrise. Jupiter and Saturn shine during the evening hours.
- 2023, December 27: Morning Cold Moon, Morning Star, Jupiter, SaturnDecember 27, 2023: The Cold Moon is in the western sky before sunrise. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are visible during nighttime hours.
- 2023, December 26: Cold Moon, Venus, Jupiter, SaturnDecember 26, 2023: The Cold Moon is visible during the nighttime hours. Venus shines before sunrise while Jupiter and Saturn are visible after sundown.
- 2023, December 25: Telescope First Light, Bright PlanetsDecember 25, 2023: For sky watchers with new telescopes, here’s what to look at before dawn or after sunset.
- 2023, December 24: Morning Moon, Pleiades, Antares Heliacal RisingDecember 24, 2023: The moon appears near the Pleiades star cluster during the earlier morning hours. Antares is at its first morning appearance, known as the heliacal rising.