New Moon, Planets And Earth Farthest From Sun: The Night Sky This Week – Forbes

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Each Monday, I pick out North America’s celestial highlights for the week ahead (which also apply to mid-northern latitudes in the northern hemisphere. Be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.

The Night Sky This Week: July 1-7, 2024

The first week of July isn’t exactly the best of the year for sky-watchers in the northern hemisphere—the extremely long nights make sure of that. This week, however, is as good as it gets because, with a new moon mid-week, it’s the darkest the post-sunset skies will get in July. Early risers will see a waning crescent moon and meet some of the prettiest sights of the winter night sky while our planet reaches a significant milestone in its annual journey around the sun.

Here’s everything you need to know about stargazing and astronomy this week:

Monday, July 1: Crescent Moon And Mars

If you can get yourself up an hour before sunrise where you are, look east for the pretty sight of a 23%-lit waning crescent moon four degrees above Mars. Closer to the horizon will be bright Jupiter, sandwiched between the beautiful Pleiades open cluster of stars (above) and Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. Capella, the “goat star,” will be to the left, above the northeast.

Tuesday, July 2: Crescent Moon And The Pleiades

Another early start will get you another beautiful view of the Pleiades, with a now 14%-lit waning crescent moon just a few degrees away. Mars is to the right, Jupiter and Aldebaran are beneath, and Capella is to the left.

Wednesday, July 3: Crescent Moon And Jupiter

By now, the waning crescent moon will have shrunk to just 8% illumination, giving it a slender look that’s hard to beat—if you can find it. Look low to the east-northeast horizon, and you’ll find our slim-looking satellite close to bright Jupiter. Capella, the Pleiades and Mars will form the backdrop above the pair.

Friday, July 5: Earth At Aphelion And A New ‘Buck Moon’

Earth orbits the sun in a slightly elliptical path, which causes the distance between the two to vary throughout the year. Today marks the farthest point in Earth’s orbit from the sun, known as “Aphelion Day.” At its closest point, or perihelion, on January 2, 2024, Earth was 91.4 million miles (147 million kilometers) from the sun, while today it’s 94.5 million miles (152 million kilometers) distant, according to timeanddate.com.

Today, we also see the new “Buck Moon,” which ensures dark moonless skies and, from Sunday, the emergence in the twilight of a slender crescent moon. The New Moon phase puts our natural satellite roughly between Earth and the sun, so it’s completely invisible to us—the exception being when it causes a solar eclipse, as it did in April (a total solar eclipse) and will again in October (an annular solar eclipse, this one observable only from the Pacific Ocean and South America).

Saturday, July 6: Young Moon

The sky-watching week ends with a couple of post-sunset moon-planet conjunctions. Be looking west-northwest after the sun has set and you’ll have a chance to see a 1.3%-lit waxing crescent moon, it having emerged from the sun’s glare. Just below the moon will be bright Venus, though it will be very hard to see.

Sunday, July 7: Crescent Moon And Mercury

Tonight, you’ll have a chance to see a 5%-lit waxing crescent moon just above Mercury, which may require binoculars. Venus is to the lower right above northwest, but again, you’ll struggle to see it.

Binocular Target Of The Week: Lagoon Nebula (M8)

Nothing beats the sight of the Orion Nebula (M42) in winter, but the Lagoon Nebula (M8) comes closest. Covering a region of the night sky about three times the size of the moon, this bright emission nebula in the constellation Sagittarius will be visible above the south. It’s just to the right of the tip of the lid of the famous “teapot” asterism. You’ll need binoculars.

The Lagoon Nebula is about 5,200 light-years from the solar system and, like M42, is where stars are being born. The light you see is the ultraviolet radiation from its young stars, ionizing its dust and gas. This is what the Hubble Space Telescope sees.

The times and dates given apply to mid-northern latitudes. For the most accurate location-specific information, consult online planetariums like SkySafari Pro, Stellarium and The Sky Live. Check planet-rise/planet-set, sunrise/sunset, and moonrise/moonset times to see where you are.

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Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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