By Mike Lynch
It’s not as explosive as a Fourth of July fireworks show, but stars are available for gazing every clear night in July.
While the average fireworks show only goes on for a half-hour, the stars are out for the entire night shift.
There are two planets easily available to see but only in the early evening Northwest sky. The brightest one, Venus, is absolutely the brightest starlike object in the sky.
You’ll easily see it in the low west-northwest sky even before the end of evening twilight, and it will set a little after 10 p.m.
As bright as it is I wouldn’t bother to observe it with a telescope. Venus is completely shrouded in a thick poisonous cloud cover, and all you’ll see is a slightly oval disk of bright white light.
Early this month Venus is about 140 million miles from our holiday barbecues.
The other planet available in the July evening skies is the giant planet Saturn, and it is definitely one you want to check out with even a small telescope, even though it’s about 875 million miles away.
Saturn is hanging in the southwest sky after evening twilight. Look for two equally bright stars next to each other in the southwest heavens as soon as it’s dark enough.
Saturn is the one to the upper right of the bright star Spica. Just make sure to put your scope and all of the eyepieces outside for a good half-hour before you gaze at Saturn through your telescope so the optics can acclimate to the outside temperature.
Otherwise you’ll get a really fuzzy view when you direct your scope at Saturn.
If all goes well you should be able to clearly resolve the planet from the rings and maybe even see some of Saturn’s larger moons including Titan, which is bigger than the planet Mercury.
The Dippers are in their usual place in the northern sky, twirling around the North Star with the Big Dipper hanging from its handle.
Look at Mizar, the middle star of the Big Dipper’s handle, to see if you can spot its faint companion, Alcor.
In the high southwestern sky you’ll see the brightest star in the sky right now, Arcturus, also the brightest star in Bootes and the second brightest star we see in the entire night sky through the course of the year.
Bootes is supposed to be a farmer hunting the Big Bear. It’s much easier to see it, though, as a giant kite with Arcturus at the tail.
In the eastern heavens you’ll see the prime stars of summer on the rise. The best way for finding your way around the summer stars is to locate the Summer Triangle, made up of three bright stars, the brightest in each of their respective constellations.
You can’t miss them. They’re the brightest stars in the east right now.
The highest and brightest is Vega, the bright star in a small faint constellation called Lyra the Harp. The second brightest star on the lower right is Altair, the brightest in Aquila the Eagle.
Altair is on the corner of a diamond that outlines the wingspan of the great bird. The third brightest at the left corner of the Summer Triangle is Deneb, a star that’s more than 1,500 light-years away.
It’s also the bright star in the tail of Cygnus the Swan. Cygnus is also known as the Northern Cross because that’s what it really looks like.
Deneb is at the head of the Northern Cross, presently lying on its side as it rises in the east.
Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations.” Check his website, www.lynchandthestars.com.
The Everett Astronomical Society: www.everettastro.org/.