Wayne Wooten: July Skies Of The Gulf Coast

Jun 28, 2019

Wayne Wooten
Credit Kay Forrest

For July 2019, the new moon occurs on July 2. On the 3rd, the very young crescent lies below the planets Mars and Mercury in twilight, about 40 minutes after sunset, use binoculars. The next evening, the waxing crescent is to the upper left of the planets; Mars is fainter, to the right, and brighter Mercury to the left.

The first quarter moon is on July 9. The waxing gibbous moon is right of Jupiter on July 12, and to the left of it on July 13. It is just to the right of Saturn on July 15. The full moon, the Hay Moon, is on July 16, and gives a partial eclipse for observers on the other side of the world. While the naked eye, dark adapted by several minutes away from any bright lights, is a wonderful instrument to stare up into deep space, far beyond our own Milky Way, binoculars are better for spotting specific deep sky objects.

For a detailed map of northern hemisphere skies, visit the skymaps.com

In July, Mercury, Venus, and Mars are all too close to the sun for convenient viewing, but the outer giants Jupiter and Saturn are at their best. Jupiter is well placed for evening observers in Ophiuchus. It is now well up in the SE as twilight falls. Any small scope will also spot its four Galilean moons. The Great Red Spot is undergoing great changes now, perhaps disappearing? It should also be spotted among its clouds at 100X with even small scopes. But the most beautiful object in the sky is Saturn, which came to opposition in Sagittarius on July 9. It is not quite as open as last year. Look closely for its large moon Titan, and also perhaps for smaller moons Dione, Rhea, and Tethys.

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, now colliding with the Milky Way in Sagittarius in the summer sky. 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. Spike south to Spica, the hot blue star in Virgo, then curve to Corvus the Crow, a four sided grouping. Jupiter lies just east of Spica this July.

North of Corvus, in the arms of Virgo, is where our large scopes will show members of the Virgo Supercluster, a swarm of over a thousand galaxies about 50 million light years distant. To the east, Hercules is well up, with the nice globular cluster M-13 marked on your sky map and visible in binoculars. 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. Northeast of Lyra is Cygnus, the Swan, flying down the Milky Way. Its bright star Deneb, at the top of the “northern cross” is one of the luminaries of the Galaxy, about 50,000 times more luminous than our Sun and around 3,000 light years distant. Under dark skies, note the “Great Rift,” a dark nebula in front of our solar system as we revolve around the core of the Milky Way in the Galactic Year of 250 million of our own years. To the east, Altair is the third bright star of the summer triangle. It lies in Aquila the Eagle, and is much closer than Deneb; it lies within about 13 light years of our Sun. Use your binoculars to pick up many clusters in this rich region of our own Cygnus spiral arm rising now in the east. 

EAAA member Marc Glover shot this image of Saturn with an 8” telescope.

To the south, Antares is well up at sunset in Scorpius. It appears reddish (its Greek name means rival of Ares or Mars to the Latins) because it is half as hot as our yellow Sun; it is bright because it is a bloated red supergiant, big enough to swallow up our solar system all the way out to Saturn’s orbit! Scorpius is the brightest constellation in the sky, with 13 stars brighter than the pole star Polaris! Note the fine naked eye clusters M-6 and M-7, just to the left of the Scorpion’s tail. Beautiful Saturn now sits well north of the stinger on the scorpion’s tail. 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, like a cloud of steam coming out of the teapot’s spout.


Stargazing at Big Lagoon State Park:  Sunset July 27 in the east parking lot near the observation tower. More Big Lagoon events are planned for August 24, September 21, and October 19.

Stargazing at Fort Pickens: Sunset July 27. At battery worth. More gazes set for Aug. 30 and Sept. 27.

For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers, visit www.eaaa.net , join us on Facebook at “Escambia Amateur Astronomers” or call our sponsor, Lauren Rogers at Pensacola State College at (850) 484-1155, or e-mail her at the college at lrogers@pensacolastate.edu.

Dr. John Wayne Wooten has been teaching science since 1970, with a special concentration on astronomy. He received his Doctor of Education in Astronomy from University of Florida in 1979.  He was an educator at Pensacola State College since 1974 and University of West Florida since 1984 before retiring in 2017. He still continues to teach distance learning astronomy for Tennessee colleges. He and his wife, Merry, have been married since 1980 and they have two sons, Michael and Trevor.