The following article was taken from our local newpaper and I hope that anyone interested in the glories of the night skies will take advantage of this spectacle.
Witness A Parade Of Fireworks And Planets
By: Heather J. Chin , The Bulletin
If watching displays of light burst forth across the night sky sounds like a wonderful idea this Independence Day weekend, then the cosmos could provide an otherworldly spectacle to behold.
This weekend and through the rest of July, the solar system will burst forth in a parade of some of its most notable glories. Visible across much of the northern United States, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus can be seen just about every night and early morning in the Greater Philadelphia area, particularly where there is less light pollution.
Before heading out, know the first rule of thumb for planet watching: stars twinkle and planets don't.
Mars, Jupiter and Venus "will be much lower on the horizon after sunset, making it very difficult to view them, especially under Center City light [and building] conditions," notes David Pitts, the Franklin Institute's planetarium director. "But if you start [looking] just as the sky is getting dark, these planets are the first objects to make themselves visible, other than the moon."
The best place to view planets this month would be somewhere with a clear view of the horizon - where sky meets land in our line of sight -with no buildings and trees. The best time would be about 20 to 30 minutes after sunset.
First up in the planetary parade are Mars and Saturn, low in the western sky. Known as the Red Planet, Mars begins moving away from the star Regulus, a bright bluish-white star in the constellation Leo, and closer to Saturn at the start of July, continuing for almost two weeks until they are less than one-degree apart.
With the two planets being so close to one another, how is anyone, especially astronomy-loving kids, supposed to tell them apart?
According to Mr. Pitts, Saturn is the brighter of the two and is a whitish color with a slight yellow tinge, whereas Mars is farther from Earth (at 165 million miles away, it's more than three times its average distance from Earth), thus much dimmer, and has a sort of pinkish, coral-like color.
With a telescope, it might even be possible to spy Saturn's rings, which encircle its planetary body.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, Mars and Saturn will be joined by Earth's moon, which will be starting a new cycle and look like a thin crescent. On Saturday, the three celestial bodies will align to form a straight line, and by Sunday night, will form a sort of triangle that when viewed through binoculars, may seem like an almost three-dimensional view.
The aligning of Mars, Saturn and Earth's moon like this is possible because they orbit the sun along roughly the same geometric plane and, from our viewpoint on Earth, appear to trace a line called the ecliptic.
Although not a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle, the teaming up of the Red Planet (Mars) and the ringed planet (Saturn) in the summer sky won't occur again until April 2022.
Jupiter and Venus join the summer sky parade beginning in mid-July, when Jupiter - the largest planet in our solar system - rises at around 10 to 11 p.m. in the opposite direction of the sunset on July 9, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. This planet, known for its gaseous atmosphere, is larger and reflects more light than the other planets, thus making it brighter. It can be identified by its creamy color.
Rising as the sun sets and setting as the sun rises, Jupiter will be at its brightest during this period and will be visible throughout the night. On July 16, Jupiter will rise with the nearly full moon, while on July 18, it rises before the moon. Although easily visible without a telescope, Mr. Pitts suggests bringing one along anyway because with it, you can see the four largest moons of Jupiter around it.
Finally, as July wanes and August begins, Venus becomes more prominent above the horizon, providing a beautiful end to a fantastic lineup of planetary bodies.
PS: As a rank novice, my speed is the Complete Idiot's Guide to Astronomy.
The Universe and Everything in It
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