July skies for the Gulf Coast
For July, we start with a crescent moon in the the first week of the month. The first quarter moon is July 6. The Full Moon, the Thunder Moon, is July 13. The waning gibbous moon passes below Saturn after dusk on July 15, and is below Jupiter in the dawn sky on July 19. It is last quarter the following morning, and passes below Mars in the dawn on July 22. The waning crescent lies just above brilliant Venus in the dawn on July 26, a fine photo op. Even better, the following morning; an hour before sunrise, the thin crescent sits just right of Pollux in the Gemini, with Venus to upper right of both. It is new on July 28, which marks the 27.3 days of the moon synodic (phase based) month, in this case, from new to next new moon.
Mercury lies behind the Sun all month. Venus is also heading there, but still visible low in the southeast in the dawn this month, a brilliant gibbous disk in the telescope. She will be rising closer and closer to the Sun in the next few weeks. Mars is in Aries in the dawn sky currently.
Visit skymaps.com for a more extensive calendar, and list of best objects for the naked eyes, binoculars, and scopes on the back of the map.
If you drop south from the bowl of the Big Dipper, Leo the Lion is in the southwest. Note the Egyptian Sphinx is based on the shape of this Lion in the sky. Taking the arc in the Dipper’s handle, we “arc” southeast to bright orange Arcturus, the brightest star of Spring. Cooler than our yellow Sun, and much poorer in heavy elements, some believe its strange motion reveals it to be an invading star from another smaller galaxy. This is the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy, now colliding with the Milky Way in Sagittarius in the summer sky. It lies on the far edge of our own barred spiral, and may account for the formation of our bar. Moving almost perpendicular to the plane of our Milky Way, Arcturus was the first star in the sky where its proper motion across the historic sky was noted, by Edmund Halley.
To the east, Hercules is well up, with the nice globular cluster M-13 marked on your sky map and visible in binocs. The brightest star of the northern hemisphere, Vega (from Carl Sagan’s novel and movie, “Contact”), rises in the northeast as twilight deepens. Twice as hot as our Sun, it appears blue-white, like most bright stars. At the opposite end of the parallelogram of Lyra is M-57, the Ring Nebula.
Note the fine naked eye clusters M-6 and M-7, just to the left of the Scorpion’s tail. In Floyd’s photo, the Scorpio’s Tail is at the bottom center of the frame, with the two bright stars of his stinger just above the bottom center, midway between the two trees that frame it.
Just a little east of the Scorpion’s tail is the teapot shape of Sagittarius, which lies toward the center of the Milky Way. From a dark sky site, you can pick out the fine stellar nursery, M-8, the Lagoon Nebula (pink patch here), like a cloud of steam coming out of the teapot’s spout. This view of our home galaxy stretching overhead is for about midnight on July evenings, looking from the South to overhead. My favorite way of learning the many deep sky objects (open and globular clusters, bright nebulae like the Lagoon, and the many dark nebulae that make up the “Dark Constellations” of the Inca) is to use low power binoculars (I prefer 8x40s because they are light and easier to hold steady with my Parkinson’s, but younger folks with a better grip on life will find 10x50’s will show fainter objects and at high power) and lean back in a lawn chair (also an ideal way to observe meteor showers like August’s Perseids with just your naked eyes) and slowly sweep up and down the Galaxy, marking off the deep sky objects on your SkyMap as you spot them. Note the back of the SkyMap has a fine selection of the best deep sky objects to spot with the naked eyes, binocs, and small scopes to help you find your way across the Galaxy this summer. Of course, you will need dark skies to see this kind of beauty, but many have plans for trips to parks and out west this summer, so be sure to plan for at least a few evenings under dark skies to appreciate our galaxy. Also, most new smartphones can get fine shots with timed exposures on a tripod like this one, using night camera or Starry Camera Pro programs. Try out yours dark evening.
The Escambia Amateur Astronomers return to Casino Beach for our Pavilion Stargaze Season on the first quarter moon. Meet us south of the famed Beach Ball Water Tower and bring your smart phone to image the Sun (before sunset with our solar scopes), Moon, and constellations. We have free star charts and will show you what’s up. The gazes, if clear skies permit, will be on the Fridays and Saturdays August 5-6, September 2-3, and the last on September 30 and October 1.
For deep skies with much less light pollution, on the weekends of the third quarter moon we continue our cooperation with the Florida State Parks at Big Lagoon State Park. While the Pavilion parking is free, normal entry fees to Big Lagoon still apply, and remember to check in the front gate before it closes at sunset. Our gazes for best imaging of the Milky Way, constellations, and other galaxies are on these weekends: July 22-23, August 19-20, September 16-17, and October 14-15.
For Okaloosa and Walton Counties, the Northwest Florida Amateur Astronomers will also host public gazes this summer at a variety of venues. On July 2, we’ll be back to Top Sail Hill. Picturesque Eden State Gardens in Point Washington are the site for September 16. Back to Henderson Beach on October 14, and final gaze for 2022 will be at Topsail on November 11. For more on their activities and meetings, access them on the web at nwfastro.org.