Above: In this mosaic image stretching 340 light-years across, Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) displays the Tarantula Nebula star-forming region in a new light, including tens of thousands of never-before-seen young stars that were previously shrouded in cosmic dust. From webbtelescope.org.
The magazine closes out the year with a curated selection of articles from NOIRLab, NASA, CSA, ESA, the Jeddah Astronomy Society, ALMA, and the IAC. Original content for the first issue of 2023 is already in the works, with specific hope that the search for life doesn't come up with anything too exciting before then to cause dramatic rewrites.
This summertime weekly summary for planetary, satellite, constellation, and other observing opportunities covers the last full week of July. We welcome the return of the moon to our sunset skies this week at the same time that we celebrate the 48th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon on the 20th – and the safe return from the surface of the late Neil Armstrong and the still ever social-media savvy Buzz Aldrin on July 21, 1969. The third name on that list, regretfully less-often mentioned because he stayed onboard the command module Columbia while the other two rode the Eagle module to the moon's surface, is Michael Collins. Of all of the documentation of this mission, the above photo might be the most memorable – especially in our current, selfie-crazed society. In this picture, the only person not accounted for in the entirely of human history – and, in fact, very likely the only multi-cellular organism not accounted for in the 4.5 billion year history of the Earth – is Collins, patiently monitoring the return of the other two to the Columbia module.
Lectures And Observing Opportunities In Upstate/Central New York
New York has a number of astronomers, astronomy clubs, and observatories that host public sessions throughout the year. Announced sessions from several respondent NY astronomy organizations are provided below for the remainder of July so you can plan accordingly. As wind and cloud cover are always factors when observing, please check the provided contact information and/or email the groups a day-or-so before an announced session, as some groups will also schedule weather-alternate dates. Also use the contact info for directions and to check on any applicable event or parking fees.
Satellite flyovers are commonplace, with several bright passes easily visible per hour in the nighttime sky, yet a thrill to new observers of all ages. Few flyovers compare in brightness or interest to the International Space Station. The flyovers of the football field-sized craft with its massive solar panel arrays can be predicted to within several seconds and take several minutes to complete.
This is an exceptional week for those interested in ISS flyovers, with a number occurring between sunset and midnight in addition to even more between midnight and sunrise. The 25th is a stand-out date with six total flyovers – four before sunrise and two well-placed after sunset. Properly equipped members of the amateur radio community can even add audio to their visual experiences by listening to transmissions from the ISS – see ariss.org or issfanclub.com for details.
The Moon's increasing brightness as Full Moon approaches washes out fainter stars, random meteors, and other celestial objects – this is bad for most observing, but excellent for new observers, as only the brightest stars (those that mark the major constellations) and planets remain visible for your easy identification. If you've never tried it, the Moon is a wonderful binocular object. The labeled image identifies features easily found with low-power binoculars.
Items and events listed below assume you're outside and observing most anywhere in New York state. The longer you're outside and away from indoor or bright lights, the better your dark adaption will be. If you have to use your smartphone, find a red light app or piece of red acetate, else set your brightness as low as possible.
Evening Skies: The two most prominent shapes in the sky, the Big Dipper and the Summer Triangle, are joined by a third shape you will hopefully come to recognize just as easily. The body of Sagittarius, close to the southern horizon from our view in New York all summer and into fall, can have its dots connected to look just like a teapot sitting flat above the tree line. Once you find Saturn and Antares, simply look around low and to the east for this prominent shape – the handle to the far east may be the first component to jump out at you.
The Big Dipper is a bright and easy guide for finding Polaris, the north star. From its handle, you can "arc" down to Arcturus. Jupiter, which stands out soon after sunset, is close to the bright star Spica in Virgo and to the southwest of bright Arcturus in Bootes. Saturn is also visible as dusk approaches, rising soon after the bright orange star Antares in Scorpius.
Morning Skies: Venus is unmistakable in the early morning sky, second only to the Moon in brightness before sunrise. Venus has passed through the head of Taurus the Bull these past few weeks and will pass by the horn star Zeta Tauri on July 27.
Mercury: While technically visible after sunset this week, Mercury is very low on the horizon and awash in scattered sunlight. Observers with binoculars might consider scanning the western horizon before 9:15 p.m. to find it, but DO NOT risk doing so until after the sun has set, as even a moment of magnified sunlight will permanently damage your vision. You can use the Moon as an observing aid on the 24th and 25th of this month to look for both Mercury and the bright star Regulus in Leo the Lion. For the patient, Mercury becomes a good early morning target in August.
Venus: Venus remains unmistakable in the early morning and even into sunrise, rising around 3:30 a.m. all week. With good, steady binoculars, you should be able to see Venus as either half-lit of as a wide crescent – and you can follow the changing phase of Venus as it and the Earth make our way around the Sun.
Mars: Mars will not return to our pre-midnight skies until this time next year, but will become a morning target this mid-August. Thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope and some image processing, we were all treated to a sequence of stills showing the Martian moon Phobos in its orbit, taken on May 12th of last year and freshly released to the public on July 20th of this year. Keen observers will note not only the brightness of this tiny moon, but the amazing surface details that Hubble can achieve from Earth's orbit.
Jupiter: If you look south soon after sunset, Jupiter will be the brightest object you'll see this summer (or second-brightest if the Moon is out). Low power binoculars are excellent for spying the four bright Galilean moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto – and several online guides will even map their orbits for you. Jupiter is to the west of the bright star Spica in Virgo, roughly a full fist-width if you measure with your arm fully-extended. Finding both will be easy on July 28, when the crescent moon rides just above Jupiter in the western sky.
Saturn: Still on the western edge of the brightest part of the Milky Way, Saturn is going to spend the next 18 months making its way to the eastern edge, all the while giving us an excellent observing target from late Spring to mid-Autumn. Saturn does have one interesting close approach on the evening of the 21st – there is one fly-by of the ISS just to the southeast of Saturn between 10:05 and 10:10 p.m. This flyover will be either very faint or completely invisible due to the orientation of the ISS solar array – and because Earth will be blocking nearly all of the sunlight these panels would otherwise reflect.
As a refresher from the June 30th to July 7th article, those looking in the direction of Saturn with binoculars are treated to a host of Messier ("M") Objects – all residing between ourselves and the center of the Milky Way galaxy above the spout of the Sagittarius teapot. A good star chart and some guide stars will help you determine just which object you're looking at.