Starwatch: Only the brightest shiners will show up this July 4
The stars and constellations of summer are well out of their winter slumber and they’re waiting for you to enjoy them on a warm clear July evenings.
Don’t let mosquitoes spoil your nocturnal fun, though. Have the bug repellent at the ready. As I’ve told you before, though, in most cases the bugs start backing off their biting about an hour after sunset. Usually by 11 p.m. their feeding time has pretty much ended and they’ve tucked themselves into the swamp or wherever they call home.
To be totally honest with you, your July stargazing is going to be somewhat hampered the first couple of weeks with a lot of moonlight. Full moon is next Sunday. Evening skies will be lot darker with the moonlight the last two weeks of the month.
But even with the moonlight the first part of the month, the planets Saturn and Jupiter will still be putting on a show in the Rochester sky. Jupiter’s still the brightest star-like object in the evening, popping out in the southwestern sky during evening twilight. Saturn begins these summer evening rising in the low south-southeast sky
Both planets are great to look at through even a small telescope. Jupiter’s great with its cloud bands and its four brightest moons constantly dancing around in orbit around Jupiter from night to night.
Saturn’s even more gorgeous with its ring system, more than 150,000 miles in diameter. When you set your scope on Saturn, even a smaller scope, you should be able to clearly see the ring system and even some of its moons.
Unfortunately, Saturn’s not rising all that high in the sky this summer because of where it is among the background stars this year. It’s unfortunate because there’s a lot more of Earth’s blurring atmosphere between you and Saturn when it’s low in the sky. It’s still worth your telescope time, though. Just take long continuous looks through your scope and hopefully you catch it in windows of thinner air from time to time.
Higher in the eastern heavens you’ll see the prime stars of summer on the rise. The best way to find your way around the summer stars is to locate the “Summer Triangle,” made up of three bright stars, the brightest in each of their respective constellations. You can’t miss them. They’re the brightest stars in the eastern half of the sky right now.
The highest and brightest star is Vega, the bright star in a small faint constellation called Lyra the Harp. The second-brightest star on the lower right of the triangle is Altair, the brightest in Aquila the Eagle. Altair is on the corner of a diamond that outlines the wingspan of the great bird.
The third-brightest star, found at the left corner of the summer triangle, is Deneb, at least 1,500 but possibly as far as 3,000 light-years from our Early home. It’s also the brightest star in the tail of Cygnus the Swan. Cygnus is also known as the “Northern Cross” because that’s what it really looks like. Deneb is at the head of the Northern Cross, presently laying on its side as it rises in the east.
In the north, look for the Big Dipper hanging from its handle in the northwestern sky, and the fainter Little Dipper standing on its handle with Polaris, the North Star at the end of the handle. Every single celestial object in the sky, including the sun and moon, appear to revolve around Polaris every 24 hours.
In the low southern sky just to the right of Saturn this year there’s a bright brick red star called Antares that marks the heart of Scorpius the Scorpion, one of those few constellations that actually resembles what it’s supposed to be.
Enjoy the July summer skies. Fireworks aren’t the only great show in the heavens!
Instructions for sky map
To use the map, hold it over your head and line up the compass points on the map with the points on the horizon.