Mid-evening Monday July 15th as the nearly full Moon rises it will be in a close conjunction with the outer ringed planet Saturn. The two will be separated by about 1-2o and both will easily fit within the field of view of binoculars, or a wide field telescope eyepiece.
Tuesday evening July 24th the 12-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be within about 2o from the planet Saturn. To west from Saturn is the planet Jupiter and further west over the southwestern horizon is the inner planet Venus. To the east from Saturn is Dwarf Planet Pluto and just rising in the east is the planet Mars.
The two, Moon and Saturn, should make a fine sight through binoculars or a low power wide-field telescope eyepiece. They are located in an area of the Milky Way rich with deep-sky objects like M-8, the Lagoon Nebula. Unfortunately the reflected light from the Moon drowns out the dimmer deep-sky objects. However a few days from now the Moon will be rising later and will not interfere with seeing some of these objects.
Thursday July 12th the Dwarf Planet Pluto will be at opposition. All outer planets and other solar system objects that orbit the Sun beyond the orbit of the Earth have opposition. At that orbital position the Earth is between the Sun and the outer solar system object, much like the Sun-Earth-Moon arrangement for a full Moon. At opposition the outer solar system object rises at the local time for sunset and sets at the local time for sunrise – again just like the full Moon.
Where is Pluto and is Pluto visible to the naked eye? Pluto currently is a few degrees east from the handle of the teapot-shaped asterism for Sagittarius the Archer, and mid-way between Mars and Saturn. Pluto is visible, but with an apparent magnitude of 14.8 Pluto would only be visible with large aperture telescopes and with time-exposure pictures.
Click here to learn more about the New Horizons mission and take part in the mission with some of the interactives created by NASA.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.
For the next week or so the evening skies will be filled with planets and dwarf planets. With the right timing and a relatively flat horizon you might be able to see Venus just before it sets and Mars just after it rises. A caveat to this is that as each day passes Mars will rise earlier while Venus, each day, will be setting earlier. And with the exception of Ceres the dwarf planets are too dim to be seen with the naked eye.
As this graphic shows, the planets are closer to the ecliptic than the dwarf planets due to differences in the respective inclinations. Inclination: Every object orbiting the Sun has an orbital path that is tilted or inclined from the Earth’s orbit – the ecliptic.
The waxing gibbous Moon is roughly mid-way between the red star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion and the planet Saturn.
Thursday morning before sunrise local time the ‘red planet’ Mars will be about 1-2o from the dwarf planet Pluto. Given the difference in distance and magnitude (Mars -0.26; Pluto 14.29) Mars is easy to see with the unaided eye, while Pluto would require a large telescope or a long time exposure to see.