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  Night Sky
 

Enjoy the starry night skies
Be a considerate neighbor. Reduce nighttime glare.
Shield your outside lights downward.
Let the stars light up the night.

July 2016 night sky

—Charlie Christmann

Did you see it?

The evening of June 20, 2016, hosted a rare event, an event not seen since 1948. Yes, that day was the Summer Solstice, but it was also a full moon. While nothing special happened to create the unusual occurrence, it is a semi rare event of happenstance and the continuing rhythmic cycles that dance overhead, pleasantly named the “Strawberry Moon.”

If you missed this year’s event, the next opportunity will be June 21, 2062, which, according to www.moongiant.com, the full moon occurs at 3:44 p.m. MDT on the solstice. After that, look in 2111, where technically, the full moon is on the June 21 solstice UTC, but here in New Mexico, it will be June 20 at 6:41 p.m. MDT.

Full moons happen on the Winter solstice, too. The Old Farmer’s Almanac tells us that since its first publication in 1793, there have been only ten occurrences in the northern hemisphere. The next one is not until 12:55 p.m. MST, on December 21, 2094.

Stargazing:

Summer evenings are easy for stargazing with the warm evenings. On July 4, while you are watching the fireworks, look a bit further from Earth and see what the universe has to offer.

At 9:30 p.m., on the Fourth, up forty degrees above the horizon and due south, look for ruddy Mars. Just past opposition, it is still very close (by solar system standards) to us. About just as high and twenty degrees to the east, you will fine Saturn. Just below Saturn is Antares, the reddish heart of the constellation Scorpius. Antares is a bright +1.06 magnitude and the 15th brightest star in the night sky. Estimates put the age of this scorpion’s heart at 11 million years and 250 light-years away.

Just barely south of due east and 25 degrees above the horizon is Altair, in Aquila. This is the brightest star in the Eagle, and the 12th brightest star in the night sky. This star spins so fast, taking only ten hours to complete one rotation; it is squished at its poles and bulging along its equator.

Look twenty degrees farther north of Altair and 55 degrees up, Vega is the fifth brightest star and 25 light-years away in the constellation Lyra. Vega’s distinctly blue color indicates it is much hotter than our sun and burning its fuel furiously. At about five hundred million years old, Vega is already middle-aged and may live only another short five hundred million years.

 Another twenty degrees to the north and thirty degrees above the horizon, find Deneb in Cygnus. It is the 19th brightest star. But, don’t let that fool you, Deneb is one of the most distant stars you will see with your eye alone, well over 1400 light-years. That’s because it’s one of the most luminous stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

The three stars, Altair, Vega, and Deneb sit on the vertices of the Summer Triangle. If you are up at 1:00 a.m., Vega will be overhead Deneb and Altar off to the east.

Now turn around and look due west. About twenty degrees above the horizon is Regulus in Leo, the Lion. This is the only first magnitude star near the elliptic. It’s a good thing Earth does not orbit Regulus. It is a blue-white giant spewing vast amounts of radiation, mostly ultraviolet, that would strip our atmosphere and boil our oceans.

Just to the right and thirty degrees up is Jupiter. In the southwest, almost overhead is Arcturus, the brightest star of Bootes. Arcturus is one of the most luminous stars in our neighborhood, along with Vega and Sirius, 110 times brighter than our sun. Arcturus is a giant orange star with little hydrogen left and likely burning through its helium. It is probably a second-generation star, born not long after the very first stars exploded in super nova spewing the first elements heavier than helium into the universe. Our sun is a third generation star and contains many more metals than Arcturus.

Need something with more motion, check out the many satellites visible just after sunset. Here are a few of the brighter satellites on the evening of the 4th according to heavens-above.com (times are local):


 
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