Hey, Sky Fans!
Between taking one kid to one camp, and another kid to another camp, and dealing with the inherent politics surrounding all of this (“Why does she go first?” “Why do I have to come?” “Can we go for ice cream?”) I’m finally home with my writin’ fingers polished up and the coffee cup filled.
I like coffee just fine, but… it’s not one of those things I care very much about. It’s cheap supermarket coffee measured and poured, slowly and deliberately, into a French press I got as a gift from my parents years ago. It makes me laugh to think about going through the process of measuring the coffee, and measuring the water, and pouring it just so, when the end result is, at best, a mediocre cup. I like to watch the grounds splash up against the glass, stirring themselves as I pour, and wait while the whole thing steeps.
The good skies around here have been hidden behind the clouds for the last couple of days. This past Sunday, July 23, the Moon was in its new phase. This might be starting to sound a little familiar. We’ve now started the Moon’s last trip around the block before it strolls between a strip of the continental US and the Sun. That’s right, the next new Moon is on August 21.
This is a great time to see how the story of the Moon’s revolution plays out. You can follow it, follow its phases, and follow where it is at a given moment to see what part of the solar system and the galaxy it’s guiding us toward. We’ll see how it goes; maybe we can have a little fun with it.
Let’s start with tonight’s sky, July 25.
If you’re like me, and “words words words excuses excuses, but what I think you’re not understanding is words excuses words…” it’s been a couple months since you’ve had a chance to the solar system’s smallest, speediest, dodgiest, innermost, and most cratered planet because it’s been in the morning skies. Quietly, though, it’s made its way into the evenings again. This evening, matter of fact, is a great night to find some western sky and see what you can see.
After sunset, which, around where I am, starts the fun at around 8:30 PM, have a look into the west’s low-down pinks and oranges. You should be able to see the gorgeous thin crescent of a two-day-old Moon setting just behind the Sun. Dig the earthshine brightening its left-hand side. As English muffins toast and the French-press pours across the Moon’s near side, look for Jupiter higher and brighter off toward your south. If you extend the line from Joops to the Moon a little farther toward the horizon, you should be able to see Mercury glowing against the twilight.
Sometimes Mercury really stands out, but I’m inclined to think tonight won’t be one of those nights. Instead, my guess is, it’ll look a little brighter, a little less dusky, against the surrounding sky; like someone dodged, or whited-out, or over-Photoshopped that corner of the sky. So, this presents a nice challenge; something to look for and distract you from whatever hurdles you needed to leap today.
Just above Mercury will be the bright star Regulus, in Leo the lion. Regulus is one of the three bright stars in the Spring Triangle (do you remember the other two?), and it’s on its way out, making way for the Summer Triangle to carry us through August. Maybe tonight will be a good night to bring the binoculars to help you see the two of them.
Have a good look at this for a second. The Moon looks like it’s really close to the Sun in the sky tonight, right? It’s already low in the sky right after sunset. Like we said earlier, it’s just two days past new. Meanwhile Mercury and Regulus are even closer to the Sun; they’re going to set even sooner after the Sun does. Together, these four objects can give us a good view of what’s going on and where our line of sight goes; a jagged Earth – Moon – Mercury – Sun line that then goes 80 light years off into the galaxy to the Little King. These objects are all characters that will be involved with the bigger story as the next couple of weeks go on. Over the next couple of nights, keep an eye on the Moon as it catches up with Jupiter on Friday, July 28, and points us toward the stars the universe in the direction of Virgo.
I hope you’ll take a break tonight and, if you haven’t already, check Mercury off your planet-seeing list. Thanks for stopping by, and clear skies, everyone!