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lundi 22 juillet 2013

Sunset Planets

Late July Planetary Sights

Venus graces the post-sunset sky in the west this week. As it gets darker, look for Saturn low in the south-southwest. Click for a slightly larger view.

It’s been a while since I’ve pointed out any sky sights to my readers, so here’s a quickie look at the post-sunset skies for the last week of July. For folks in the northern hemisphere, this is about how the sky looks just after sunset, when things are starting to get a bit dark. First, you’ll likely see a bright “star” low in the west. It’s not a star, it’s the planet Venus.

Back when I was working at the planetarium on campus during my grad school years, we would often get phone calls from members of the public about Venus. The most memorable one came from a person who said she’d been watching it for hours and it was moving slowly, so was it a UFO? I guess she didn’t remember that as Earth turns, objects in the sky will eventually set in the west. Such is the case for Venus–it sinks below the horizon a while after sunset, giving us a pretty view of this cloud-covered planet.

As it gets darker, you should also be able to spot Saturn, not far from the star Spica (in Leo the Lion), headed for its rendezvous with the horizon shortly after midnight. If you have binoculars or a telescope, check out Saturn’s rings. Even at low magnification, they’re enough to get a “wow” out of you upon first sight.

Saturn is one of my favorite planets, right after Mars. I like Mars because it’s likely that humans will get to go there someday. Saturn just enchants me because of those rings. When I was a kid, those rings just screamed “alien world” at me! Now, of course, we know a LOT about Saturn, and it has turned out to be a fascinating place in its own right. To read more about Saturn, check out the Cassini Mission web pages. Mars info is available here.

Whatever you do this last week and a half of July, make sure it includes stepping outside after sunset and checking out the sky!

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