August Sky Gazing: A Spectacular Early Dawn Display as the Moon and Planets Align

This July, early risers will be able to view a magnificent celestial show involving the moon and the planets against a backdrop of stars. Predawn skies will display three bright outer planets – Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, all visible to the naked eye. Jupiter, located in the east-northeast, will appear as the brightest ‘star’ in the sky, while Mars, with its reddish hue, will be seen to the upper right of Jupiter. The gap between Mars and Jupiter will decrease by half a degree daily throughout the month.

Mars will join Jupiter in the constellation Taurus, the Bull, from July 12 until September 5. Jupiter, which takes nearly a dozen years to make one orbit around the sun, entered Taurus in late April 2024 and will remain there until June 2025. Taurus is famous for its two star clusters, Pleiades and Hyades, which are a spectacle to the naked eye, and even more so when viewed with binoculars.

Saturn, located in the south-southeast to the southwest, stands alone in the predawn sky during July. With a telescope, one can see Saturn’s rings, which appear needle-like at low magnifications. The moon, in its waning crescent phase, will pass through Mars, Pleiades, Jupiter, Aldebaran, and Hyades from July 1-3 and July 29-31, offering stunning views.

Several other events will take place in July, including Jupiter passing within 4.8° north of Aldebaran, a once-in-12-years event. On July 21, Mars will pass within 4.8° south of Alcyone, the brightest member of the Pleiades, and form an almost isosceles triangle with the moon and Jupiter on July 30.

In the last week of July, Orion, with his two bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel, will emerge low in the eastern, early twilight morning sky. Other notable stars in the morning twilight sky include Vega, Altair, Deneb, Fomalhaut, Capella, Pollux, and Castor.

Both inner planets, Mercury and Venus, will set during dusk twilight in July, and will require binoculars to view. Arcturus and Vega will be the most prominent evening stars. From July 1-7, the sky will be dark and moonless, providing optimal conditions for viewing the Milky Way.

The Astronomical Society of the Desert will host a star party on Saturday, July 6, providing enthusiasts a chance to experience the night sky in a group setting. Additionally, the Abrams Planetarium offers a Sky Calendar by subscription, providing quarterly mailings with three monthly issues. The calendar is a useful resource for those interested in tracking celestial events.

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