July 2023 Stargazing Guide
Greetings junior scientists, scientists and citizens of this great big weird, wild and wonderful world in which we live! As always I'm your humble science communicator the great Orbax coming to you from the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph I'd like to welcome you to our July 2023 Star Gazing Guide!
To most of us July is long hot days and short summer nights, but if you think about it the days are actually getting shorter and the nights are getting longer since the Solstice occurred last month. With that in mind, let's take advantage of these summer nights for some Star Gazing. This month we track down some constellations of mythical proportions, say goodbye to Venus and hello to Saturn, and gaze upon not just a Full Moon but a Super Moon! All this and more we just take some time... to look up
Last July I told you about the Summer Triangle, the asterism comprised of Altair, Deneb, and Vega in the East. This is a great way to start your star gazing this month. Quick and easy to identify. But there's more to our summer stars than just a triangle! If you continue above Vega you'll be able to spot the constellation Hercules. While many constellations don't quite match the image that they're named for, Hercules kind of looks like a stick figure body with a big square for the torso. Hercules is the fifth largest of the 88 constellations.In Roman mythology Hercules performed 12 labours, the penultimate of which involved defeating the dragon Ladon so he could steal the golden apples of the Hesperides. If you look towards the North we see Hercules triumphant standing upon the head of Draco. Draco is Latin for dragon and is also one of the largest constellations in the sky. When Ptolemy named the original 48 constellations back in the second century, Draco was amongst them and is still one of the 88 constellations today. Draco slithers across the sky hugging Ursa Minor and contains three very bright stars Eltanin, Athebyne and Rastaban. See if you can spot them junior scientists!
It's your last chance to dance this summer with our friend Venus. Venus has been lighting our Western Sky since spring but will start setting before Sunset later in the month. On July 9th Venus will be at its brightest in the West setting just after sunset. Look to the West.
While we say goodbye to Venus, the gas giants Saturn and Jupiter increase in visibility in the early mornings in the South and Southeast. Bright and high in the sky they'll be visible in the hours just before dawn.
The full moon this month is on July 3rd and it's actually the first of four Super Moons this year.
What's a Super Moon?
The Moon's orbit around the Earth is not a perfect circle, it's actually an ellipse. This means there's a point in the orbit where the Moon is furthest from the earth called apogee and a point where it's closest to the earth called perigee. July 3 is not only a Full Moon but it's also perigee where the Moon is actually 40 000 kilometers closer to the Earth. As a result it appears larger in the sky. As I mentioned before this is the first of four Super Moons this summer with two in August and one at the end of September to round out our summer. Settlers commonly refer to the July Full Moon as the Buck Moon or the Thunder Moon and is found in or near the constellation Sagittarius. This moon is referred to by the Anishinaabe of the Great Lakes region as the Halfway Summer Moon. This is because the days have already started to shorten after the summer Solstice back in June. The Cree of central Canada call the July full Moon Opaskowipisim, the Feather Moulting Moon, in reference to the waterfowl and the Mi'kmaw of the East coast also refer to this behaviour calling it Peskewiku’s, the Birds Shedding Feathers Moon.
We'll wrap up this month with a cool summertime phenomena you can try and spot. As you may know our home, the Earth, spirals around our sun within a moving Galaxy called the Milky Way which itself is made up of somewhere between 100 to 400 billion stars. Guelph is around 43.5 degrees North in Latitude which means that during summer nights the Milky Way and in fact the galactic center of the Milky Way, is actually visible in the night sky. In order to see this you need to be as dark as possible which is why I suggest waiting until sometime around the new moon July 17th. In the darkened sky look towards the constellation Sagittarius and see if you can find the hazy band of light from which the Milky Way gets its name.
Another summer is upon us junior scientists and I wish you nothing but clear skies and keen eyes. As we look out into the darkness above us I want you to push past the Karman line, that line 100 km above us that marks where our sky ends and outer space begins. I want you to keep pushing and keep looking because it’s out there where the celestial dance unfolds. It’s out there where we seek answers to so many questions. And it’s all out there, waiting for you, if you just take some time… to look up.
See you next month junior scientists and don’t forget to have a science-tastic day!
Special thanks to Royal City Science's own planetary geochemist Dr Glynis Perrett for her help preparing our stargazing guide and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.