The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


The July night sky

Charlie Christmann

Look out for Mars

The big event of the summer will be our close encounter with the red planet in late August. On July 1 Mars rises in the constellation Aquarius at about 11:40 p.m. At a distance of fifty-two million miles and a magnitude of -1.4 (negative magnitudes are brighter then positive magnitudes), it outshines all the stars except for our own sun. At month’s end, Mars will be about thirty-nine million miles away and shining at a bright -2.3 magnitude.

Just how bright is Mars? Well, for comparison, the brightest star, Sirius, has a magnitude of -1.4. Venus, in its full glory, can be as bright as -4.0 and can cast a shadow on a moonless night. The full Moon is -12.7, and the Sun is -26.7. At its peak, Mars will be a magnitude -2.9.

Flags full of stars

Star formations have been used in flags throughout history. 

Quick quiz: can you name the flag that displays the Big Dipper? Read on for the answer.

Even though out of sight for most of the northern hemisphere, Crux, the Southern Cross, is as important south of the equator as the Big Dipper is here. The Southern Cross adorns national flags of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Brazil. All of the flags, except New Zealand’s, depict all five stars in the formation. New Zealand omits the faintest star, Epsilon Crucis.

On the Brazilian flag, there are a total of twenty-seven stars, each representative of a Brazilian state or its federal district. All the stars are actually present in the night sky, and are depicted as if seen on a blue globe. The star positions represent the star locations for 20:30 local time on November  15, 1889 over Rio de Janeiro. Why that exact time? That is the date the emperor Pedro II was deposed and the time Manuel Deodoro Da Fonseca declared Brazil a republic.

Other constellations are represented in the Brazilian flag as well: Canis Major, the Big Dog; Canis Minor, the Little Dog; Virgo, the Virgin; Scorpius, the Scorpion; Hydra, the Water Snake; Triangulum Australe, the Southern Triangle; Carina, the Keel of Argo, the Ship; and Octans, the Octant.

As for the Big Dipper, it is proudly flown on the Alaskan state flag. A thirteen-year-old Native American boy, John Bell "Benny" Benson, is credited with designing the Alaska State flag.

A contest sponsored by the Alaska Department of the American Legion was held in 1926 to select the state flag. Benson, from the village of Chignik, entered to the contest. He won the prize in 1927 and was awarded a $1,000 trip to Washington, D.C., and a gold watch engraved with the flag.

But because his father was ill and then President Calvin Coolidge was out of the country, Benson never made the trip. Instead, the $1,000 was put toward his education. The Territorial Legislature adopted the flag in May 1927 as Alaska’s official flag. When Alaska entered the Union in 1959, the territorial flag was adopted as the state flag.

The design was selected for its simplicity, originality, and symbolism. The flag’s blue field represents the evening sky, the blue of the sea and of mountain lakes, as well as Alaska’s wildflowers. Emblazoned on the flag are eight gold stars, seven of which belong to the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, and form the Big Dipper. The eighth star incorporated into the flag is Polaris, the North Star. Ursa Major was chosen because it was considered to be the most conspicuous constellation in the northern sky, while Polaris is the ever constant star for the mariner, the explorer, hunter, trapper, prospector, woodsman, and the surveyor.

Where are the Planets and the Moon?

Look for Mercury low in the evening twilight mid- to late July.

  • Venus glides into the sunlight this month and is not visible after the first week of the month.
  • Mars rises around 11:00 p.m.. The Moon and Mars will be side by side on July 17.
  • Jupiter sets at about 10:00 p.m.. Locate Jupiter four degrees south of the Moon on July 2 and July 30.
  • Saturn rises around 4:00 a.m. The Moon will be four degrees north of Saturn on July 26.
  • The full moon is on July 13 and the new moon is on July 29.

I actually get questions!

Several people have asked just how big “a degree apart” in the sky is. Look at the full moon. It’s about one-half of a degree. Two full-moon diameters is one degree.

[If you have questions for Charlie Christmann you can send them via the Contact Us page and we’ll forward them to Charlie. —ED]






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