A Gorgeous Old Moon meets Venus, Mercury and Meteors, and Saturn Shines in the South!
Watch out for Meteors
Next week, the Southern Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower peaks, so you can look for early birds after midnight all this week. While they are visible anywhere in the sky, they will appear to originate, or radiate, from a point low in the eastern predawn sky — the star designated Delta in the constellation of Aquarius (the Water Bearer).
Sun, Moon, and Planets
The Moon starts the Last Quarter of its monthly orbit today (Sunday afternoon). This means it will rise after midnight with a half-illuminated face and linger into the daytime afternoon. For the rest of the week, it wanes towards New Moon next Sunday morning, leaving the night skies dark this week. On Thursday morning before dawn, look in the east for its beautiful slender crescent hanging delicately to the lower right of bright planet Venus. It might be glimpsed just before sunrise on Friday morning, too. Then it disappears as it passes the Sun, rejoining the western evening sky next week.
Mercury continues to slowly swing wider of the evening Sun this week, staying visible without ease for northern hemisphere observers. It sets about 10 pm local time, but the best time to look for it is about 9:45 pm when it will be a few finger widths width above the western horizon (and south of where the sun went down). Due to the way the Ecliptic (the plane of our Solar System) angle varies with latitude, mid-latitude Southern hemisphere observers get a much better view of the elusive planet.
Extremely bright Venus rises in the eastern sky about 3 am local time and blazes away until swallowed by the dawn’s light. This week, the planet marches eastwards and down, leaving the stars of Taurus (the Bull). Viewed in a telescope, the planet presents a more than half illuminated phase.
Saturn is the bright yellowish object partway up the southern sky after the evening sky darkens. It reaches its highest elevation of about 11 pm local time, and then sets in the west well before dawn.
Jupiter is the extremely bright object in the southwestern evening sky this week. It sets about 12:30 am local time. The planet’s four large Galilean moons are easily visible in a small telescope. A larger telescope will also show the round black shadows they cast when they cross (or transit) the planet — and the Great Red Spot. Here are the best events in Eastern Daylight Savings Time. (Simply add or subtract the appropriate hours to convert them to your time zone.)
On Sunday, July 16, Ganymede’s shadow will transit near Jupiter’s north pole from 10:17 pm until the planet sets. On Wednesday, July 19, Io’s shadow will transit from 10:36 pm until the planet sets. On Friday, July 21, Europa’s shadow will transit from 9:53 pm until the planet sets. The Great Red Spot is visible on Jupiter for about three hours centred on Monday, July 17 at 9:33 pm (in dark twilight) and Wednesday, July 19 at 11:12 pm.
The icy giant planets Uranus and Neptune are well-placed for viewing in the pre-dawn sky. Uranus, in Pisces (the Fishes) rises about 12:40 am local time. Neptune, rising about 11 pm local time, is in the southeastern sky about two finger widths to the lower left of the medium-bright star Hydor in Aquarius (the Water-Bearer).
Stargazing News for this week (from July 16th) by Chris Vaughan.