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Thursday 24 July 2014  •   27 Holly Moon 2014

Viewing the night sky in Holly Moon 2014

28 June - 26 July 2014

Map of night sky at full moon: 12 July, 11:25 UT
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Holly Moon 2014

Mars is now less bright than it was earlier in the year, as Earth speeds on ahead, leaving Mars behind. As seen from the northern hemisphere, it is low down in the south-west after sunset. The moon is close to Mars on the evening of 5 July, and occults it over SW Mexico, the Pacific coast of Central America and northern South America. As seen from Acapulco, the moon covers Mars from 00:47 to 01:50 UT, 6 July (19:47 to 20:50 CDT, 5 July). Mars is also close to Spica, the bright star of Virgo, and passes north of it again on 13 July. On 2 July, Mars slips back to being as far away as the sun is from Earth.

Not so far to the east of Mars is the ringed planet, Saturn. The moon is close to Saturn on the night of 7/8 July and occults it over southern South America. As seen from Buenos Aires, the moon covers from 03:04 to 04:01 UT (00:04 to 01:01 Argentina Time, 8 July).

Venus is the bright morning star, though gradually fading as it moves over towards the far side of the sun. Mercury joins it, appearing suddenly and brightly in the morning twilight below Venus, reaching 20.7°W of the sun on 13 July, a reasonably good view for both hemispheres of Earth. On above Mercury and Venus are the Pleiades and their Taurean sister cluster, the Hyades. The old moon passes through the latter on the morning of 22 July, and is near Mercury and Venus on 24 May. You may just about be able to see it low in the east before dawn on 25 July, when it is forms a near equilateral triangle with the two planets. Jupiter passes behind the sun on 24 July.

On 2 July, the dwarf planet Ceres is five minutes of arc north of the star HIP65796 in Virgo, and on 5 July, the asteroid Vesta passes ten minutes of arc south of Ceres. Vesta is nowhere near as large as Ceres, and is not spherical enough to count (yet) as a dwarf planet, but it is brighter and nearer than Ceres, and is the brightest object in the asteroid belt. It can sometimes be seen with the naked eye, but not today. However, this is a wonderful opportunity to see Ceres and Vesta together through binoculars or a telescope. On 15 July, Ceres is three minutes north of HIP66482.

On 18 July, the moon passes close north of Uranus.

On 4 July, the dwarf planet Pluto and its companion Charon reach opposition. They are closest to Earth on 2 July, at 4737 million kilometres or 4.4 light hours away. They can be seen from Earth only through the largest telescopes, but the New Horizons craft is due to visit them in July 2015.

The month ahead: Hazel Moon 2014

27 July - 25 August 2014

Map of night sky at full moon: 10 August, 18:09 UT
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Hazel Moon 2014

There are two bright pairs of planets this month. Mars and Saturn are in the evening sky, low down in the SW after dark as seen from northern lands, with Mars just the brighter of the two, and nearer to the sunset. The moon is between Mars and Saturn on the evening of 3 August before going on to occult Saturn the following evening as seen from Australia (except Tasmania) and (in daylight) far south Asia. As seen from Sydney, the moon covers Saturn on 4 August from 11:22 to 12:13 UT (21:22 to 22:13 EST). Mars crosses into Libra on 10 August and, towards the end of the lunar month, is close to Saturn in the sky, and with pretty much the same brightness. On the evening of 25 August, Mars is closest to Saturn, passing three degrees to the south of it, and the two have identical magnitude.

Later in the month, Jupiter emerges from behind the sun into the morning sky, where it joins the brighter Venus, which is on its way back in, moving towards the sun’s far side. Venus passes very close north of Jupiter (a fifth of a degree apart) on the morning of 18 August. The pair will look lovely to the naked eye in the pre-dawn sky, but lovelier still through binoculars, as they are on the southern fringes of the Beehive Cluster. While it is still dark enough to see them well, they are low down in the ENE, so find a place with an unobstructed view in that direction. On the mornings of 23 and 24 August, the old crescent moon will be south of the bright pair.

On 14 August, the moon is very close to Uranus, occulting it from parts of Siberia and the Arctic.

Look out for the Southern Delta Aquariid meteors around 28 or 29 July, especially if you’re looking from the southern hemisphere, and then for the Perseid meteors around 12 or 13 August, normally the best shower of the year, but made harder to see this year by the moon being only just past full. The best time to look is in the hours between midnight and the pre-dawn lightening of the sky.

William Morris
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