David Aguilar (617) 495-7462
Christine Pulliam (617) 495-7463

Our Solar System: July 2014

Jupiter is getting progressively lower every evening. By mid-July, it is no longer visible. It reaches solar conjunction on the 24th. Next month it will appear in the morning sky.

Mars is still in a prime viewing location, and becomes visible shortly after sunset. On the 13th, it moves to within a degree and a half of first-magnitude Spica; even though Mars is dimming, it still manages to outshine the star. Their close approach lets you appreciate the contrast between the blue-white star and the reddish planet.

Saturn lies high in the south as night falls. It's among the dim stars of Libra, so recognizing it should be easy. Any telescope will reveal the planet's magnificent ring system, and perhaps its largest moon Titan as well.

Neptune rises about midnight in mid-July. The planet lies in Aquarius, and shines at a magnitude 7.9, well below naked-eye visibility.

Uranus rises after midnight at midmonth. Its observing prospects improve at the month goes on. By the 31st, it is rising almost 6 hours before the Sun. The distant, magnitude 5.7 planet moves slowly; it spends most of the month within 2-1/2° of 4th-magnitude Epsilon Piscium.

Venus rises just 2 hours before the Sun at midmonth, and it barely climbs out of the morning twilight before sunrise. It shines at "just" magnitude -3.8 - its faintest for the year. It gains some slight altitude during the month, rising from 7° to 12° at sunrise during July. In a telescope, its nearly-full disk appears only 12 arc-seconds in diameter.

Mercury becomes progressively more visible in the morning sky. It reaches greatest elongation - 21° W of the Sun - on July 12th. On July 16 it comes closest to Venus with a separation of just 6 degrees.

Dwarf Planets/Asteroids

The dwarf planet/asteroid 1 Ceres and the asteroid 4 Vesta make a particularly close approach in July. (See our "What's New" page for more info.)

Pluto is at opposition on July 4, so this is prime time to hunt the planet down - if you have a large telescope, that is! It shines no brighter than magnitude 14.1, and is in rich star fields in Sagittarius. On the 21st it passes just 1.2 arc-minutes S of the 5th-magnitude star 29 Sagittarii.


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