Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report for June 28 – July 4

The night sky provides the backdrop for the Temples and Towers of the Virgin in Utah's Zion National Park. Undated | Photo courtesy of Avery Sloss/Zion National Park, St. George News

Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report
John Mosley

Monday – Sunday

The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at Send questions and comments to [email protected]

Once again all five naked-eye planets are visible and will be for the following week, so we’ll begin with Venus in the evening sky and end with Mercury in the morning.

Venus is brilliant in the west, as it will be all summer. It’s on the far side of the sun but it orbits the sun faster than we do and it’s approaching us. Presently its 140 million miles distant and quite small and nearly round as seen through a telescope. You can spot Venus as the sky is growing dark – and even before dark if you know where to look – and it sets 90 minutes after the sun.

Mars is a short distance to the upper left of Venus, the exact amount changing nightly as Venus rapidly approaches Mars – as seen from earth, of course. Actually Mars is 80 million miles beyond Venus, and being more distant, smaller, and darker, Mars is only 1/200th as bright as Venus. Their separation is 8½ degrees on Monday but 6 degrees on the Friday, and if you watch them nightly – which I encourage – you’ll see that Venus will soon pass Mars in a nice conjunction.

Mars recently passed in front of the Beehive Star Cluster and hopefully you were able to see it, even if only with binoculars. On Friday, Venus is on the edge of the same cluster but it will be a challenge to see it because they will be quite low when the sky is dark enough to see the stars of the cluster. But there’s no harm in trying.

Jupiter and Saturn rise at about midnight and are high in the south at dawn. Jupiter is the largest planet and it’s the brightest planet after Venus, while Saturn, being smaller and more distant, is 1/16 as bright as Jupiter. Saturn is 20 degrees to the right of Jupiter – twice the width of your fist held at arm’s length – and that separation will slowly increase through the coming decade. Telescopically Jupiter is famous for its four large moons and Saturn for its rings.

Last to appear is Mercury, now in the morning sky. Look for it low in the east-northeast during morning twilight, perhaps 45 minutes before sunrise, and you’ll need a very low horizon. It’s at its greatest angular separation from the sun on Sunday but it will be higher and brighter next week.

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