Spot Pluto and see the Milky Way and planets all month long.
What’s Up for July. Spot Pluto and see the Milky Way and planets all month long. Hello and welcome. I’m Jane Houston Jones from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
July showcases our solar system against a backdrop of Milky Way wonders. Saturn and Mars grace the summer sky just after sunset, getting lower in the western sky this month. Early risers will easily see our two innermost planets–Mercury and Venus–30 minutes before dawn mid-month, and you might be able to see some shooting stars in the southern sky before dawn, too! And, you can still catch a historic meetup between dwarf planet Ceres and asteroid Vesta. They’re super-close to one another all month long.
Pluto reaches opposition on July 4th, when it’s faintly visible all night long. But Pluto isn’t easy for amateur astronomers to spot. You’ll need a medium-sized telescope and very dark skies. It’s a thrill to see! And you can, too–with good star charts. Binocular viewers will just need to look towards the handle of the teapot-shaped constellation Sagittarius to find the general area. Pluto will be one of the many objects in your field of view, but you won’t be able to actually see Pluto in your binoculars.
Summer nights reveal Milky Way wonders to National Park visitors and others who are away from urban light pollution. And you won’t need a telescope to enjoy the view! Look for the Milky Way rising in the eastern sky a few hours after sunset. From a dark location, it will span the sky from north to south by midnight. Just sit back and surf the Milky Way with binoculars. Start your tour near Scorpius’s bright red star Antares, and soon you’ll be viewing the center of our galaxy. A nudge of your binoculars will reveal star clusters like M22–and M11, the Wild Duck Cluster, and nebulae like M8, the Lagoon Nebula, and M20, the Trifid Nebula. You can also see a dark lane that divides the bright band of the Milky Way lengthwise. That’s the Great Rift, star-forming molecular dust that blots out the light.
You can learn about how NASA studies stars and star forming regions in many wavelengths and all of NASA’s missions at www.nasa.gov. That’s all for this month. I’m Jane Houston Jones.