To Spica, Jupiter and Beyond!

Hey, Sky Fans! I hope you’re having a great weekend. Thanks for taking time out of it to stop by. It’s been a really busy week for me. Has it been for you, too? Sorry I haven’t written much lately, and sorry for this late post.

The other night, my family went out for some fun and ice cream at a gorgeous local park, I say contradicting the “really busy” idea. It was low and grassy, right along the river. The skies were a little tough, with fractured clouds swimming against the blue. Sometimes they broke, sometimes not. As the band finished playing, the Sun set, evening turned into night, and the Big Dipper popped into the skies. Those of us tuned into what was going on were treated, if only for a few minutes, to the sight of a three-day-old-crescent setting behind an inflatable movie screen and the hills across the river on a summer’s evening.

As we keep going and follow the Moon in its last last trip around the block before August’s eclipse, the Moon has grown from the eyelash-thin crescent it was at the start of the week. It’s still in the giant and sprawling Virgo, which is the second biggest constellation in the entire sky.

That was the first of the Moon’s three nights in Virgo before it moves along to Libra. Jupiter was nearby, as was the star Spica. The following night, last night, Jupiter and the Moon were in a tight pairing before they went their separate ways.

Spica, Virgo’s brightest, is the 16th brightest star in the night sky, but it’s a subdued type of bright. Rather than grabbing your attention, and not letting go, with bold and icy colors the way the bright lights of winter do, it’s easy-going and mellow; summery. Its beauty doesn’t grab you at first, but to see it there, waving from 250 light years away, the brightest in its part of the sky, can be quite a sight if you give it some time to settle in and wash over you. I find it to deserve a quiet night and be really relaxing to see at the end of a long, hot summer day.

The Moon in the south & west, July 29 - July 31, 2017
The Moon in the south & west, July 29 – July 31, 2017

If you can, head out tonight, July 29, and look toward our nearest neighbor. It’s now about a quarter of the way around. It’s a meaty, nearly half-lit, nearly first-quarter Moon. Farther away, Jupiter, and even farther Spica, will still be nearby toward the right. While you look, try to imagine what’s going on deeper and deeper off into the night.

The Virgo Cluster is out there. Invisible to the naked eye, it’s a group of about 1,500 far-off galaxies centered about 55 million light years away. The cluster is part of the even more distant and gigantic Virgo Supercluster, which our Milky Way is a part of. Cluster upon cluster, galaxy upon galaxy, star upon star, grain of sand upon grain of sand. Out there, hidden by the distance.

After tonight, it’s off into Libra, the scales. Keep an eye out Sunday (July 30) and Monday (July 31). You’ll see the Moon shoot the gap between that constellation’s two brightest stars, the flamboyantly named Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschmali, whose names mean “southern claw” and “northern claw” respectively. What? Your scale doesn’t have claws? Those stars were named when they were considered part of Scorpius, the scorpion.

I love to look up and watch the show on these summer nights. I hope you’ll give it a shot, too. Have a great weekend, and clear skies, everyone!





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