In Our Skies, July 2022: Planets

by Shaphan Shank | Jul 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Moon. Photo © Shaphan Shank.

This month, nearly all the bright planets are strung across the early morning sky. Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are all easy to find, thanks to their brilliance. Venus and Jupiter are brighter than any star in the night sky, and Mars and Saturn are nearly on par with the brightest stars that are currently in the morning sky.

Uranus, the next planet beyond Saturn, is harder to find. Although it is faintly visible in a dark sky, this planet looks just like any other faint star when viewed with the unaided eye. Even with a telescope, Uranus only looks like a pale bluish dot.

On the morning of July 22, though, observing Uranus will be both easier and more interesting. That’s because the Moon will pass less than 0.5° (one Moon-width) from Uranus as seen from eastern North America. The pair will appear farther apart from western North America, but from Brazil and parts of West Africa, the Moon will pass in front of, or occult, Uranus.

The same thing will happen again on the morning of August 18, but this time, western North America is better placed to observe the conjunction. From the Pacific coast, Uranus and the Moon will be about 0.7° apart at dawn. Like in July, the Moon will again occult Uranus, but this time, Hawaii will be the best place from which to observe the occultation.

July and August bring two notable meteor showers, the Southern Delta Aquariids and the Perseids. The Southern Delta Aquariid shower peaks around July 30, with a peak zenith hourly rate (ZHR) of 20–25. This year’s peak almost exactly coincides with New Moon, so moonlight will not interfere with observing the shower. Unlike most other meteor showers, the Southern Delta Aquariids favor the tropics and Southern Hemisphere. Peak rates in the Northern Hemisphere are somewhat lower.

The Perseid meteor shower peaks about two weeks later, on the night of August 12–13. This shower is one of the strongest of the year, with a ZHR of about 100. Unfortunately, this year’s peak lands on the night of Full Moon, so moonlight will wash out fainter meteors. Like most showers, the Perseid shower performs best in the early morning hours.

Saturn will be at opposition on August 14. This means that the planet will be opposite the Sun in the sky. Saturn is also closer to Earth at opposition than at other times of the year, and it appears larger and brighter than it does the rest of the year. Because of these factors, the days around opposition will be the best time to observe Saturn this year.

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