StarWatch: Assemblage of stars greets early risers

Published 6:05 pm Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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By Deane Morrison

In the predawn hours when most of us are asleep, nature is busy assembling stars and planets for a late summer spectacle.

Early birds who go out at least an hour before sunrise will see Mars, somewhat low in the east, and Jupiter, lower but brighter, in the northeast. On the 2nd, a crescent moon appears between them. During July the planets climb and pull closer, with the gap between them shrinking from 22 degrees to seven degrees. In the south, Saturn glimmers by itself.

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As the days go by, the iconic winter stars join Mars and Jupiter. Look for two star clusters: the Pleiades and the V-shaped Hyades, which forms the face of Taurus, the bull. The Hyades and Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, appear close to both planets late in the month. In mid-August, Mars passes Jupiter by less than a moon width. As they drift farther apart, more bright winter stars join the group. We will be treated to a months-long feast of stars and planets.

In this month’s evening sky, Antares, the red heart of Scorpius, shines low in the south at nightfall. On the 17th, a waxing moon joins the star. High in the southwest, brilliant Arcturus dominates its kite-shaped constellation, Bootes, the herdsman. Just east of Bootes, look for the semicircular Corona Borealis, the northern crown, and its one bright star, called Alphecca or Gemma.

Moving east again, you’ll see the hourglass form of the Greek hero Hercules, who hangs upside down. Next to Hercules shines Vega, the brightest of the three stars that form the large Summer Triangle. Vega anchors the small, parallelogram-shaped constellation Lyra, the lyre of the mythical Greek musician Orpheus. The second brightest star in the Triangle is Altair, in Aquila, the eagle, and the third star is Deneb, in Cygnus, the swan.

On the night of the 20th, July’s full moon takes a solo trip across the sky.