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For their own good
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A heavenly square dance in the western sky
By Daryl Schrader, Special to the Times
Published June 25, 2007
Brilliant Venus, Saturn (much dimmer) and the star Regulus dance low in the western sky for all of July. On Sunday, Venus and Saturn are only 0.8 degrees apart, with Regulus to their upper left. On July 3, Saturn is 1.8 degrees to the right of Venus. Notice that the crescent moon joins this triad on the evenings of July 16 and 17. Each week they will be nearer to the horizon and will set earlier. At the end of the month they will be too close to the sun's glare to be seen clearly.
Jupiter is dominant in the south when the sky darkens. The bright star near it is the giant red star Antares. It takes the light from Jupiter less than an hour to reach us, but the light from Antares takes more than 600 years. That's right: You are seeing Antares as it was more than 600 years ago.
Mars can be seen best in the east before sunrise. Find it below the moon on the morning of July 9.
During the second half of the month, look for Mercury low to the east-northeast horizon a half-hour before sunrise. It is directly below the crescent moon on July 12 and at its greatest angular distance from the sun on July 20.
At the planetariums
Science Center of Pinellas County, 7701 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg: Learn how to build a telescope at ongoing classes from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays in the optical laboratory in the annex building (behind the main building). The St. Petersburg Astronomy Club meets at the Science Center at 8 p.m. the fourth Friday of every month. The next meeting is July 27. Visit www.tampabayastronomy.com. For more information, call (727) 384-0027.
St. Petersburg College, Fifth Avenue and 69th Street N, St. Petersburg: The college planetarium at the St. Petersburg campus will offer free planetarium shows at 7 and 8:15 p.m. Fridays. The last show of the summer is July 13. Please, no children under 5, and no admittance after the shows begins. When the skies are clear the observatory will be open after the second show. Call (727) 341-4320 for more details.
Gulfport: Telescopes will be set up at dusk on July 6 and July 21 at Beach Boulevard and 31st Avenue S for astronomical viewing, but only if the skies are clear.
St. Pete Beach, corner of Corey and Blindpass Road: "Blue Moon Celebration, " with telescopes set up next to the Lemuria Book Store, will be Saturday. Come see the "Blue Moon" (second full moon within a month) and the planet Jupiter from 8:45 to 10:30 p.m., weather permitting.
South Florida Museum and Bishop Planetarium, 210 10th St. W, Bradenton: The planetarium continues to show four different shows, "The Secret of the Cardboard Rocket" is for the younger set. The kids will also enjoy Snooty the manatee's 59th birthday bash from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 21. For more details, call (941) 746-4131 or visit www.southfloridamuseum.org.
Museum of Science and Industry, 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa: The planetarium continues with "More Than Meets the Eye" and the "Tonight Show" on the current summer sky. "Shipwreck" is the new exhibit, along with new IMAX shows Deep Sea and Spider-Man 3. The astronomy club (M.A.R.S.) and MOSI offer free telescope viewing at dusk July 21, weather permitting. Call (813) 987-6100 or visit www.mosi.org for more events.
July sky calendar
Sunday: Saturn is less than a degree from the more brilliant Venus, low in the west after dusk. Binoculars will be useful.
July 3: Saturn is 2 degrees to the right of Venus, low in the west when the sky darkens.
July 6: Telescopes set up in Gulfport for viewing at dusk, if the skies are clear. Earth at its greatest distance (aphelion) from the sun, 94.5-million miles.
July 7: Last-quarter moon.
July 9: Look to the east a couple of hours before sunrise to find Mars below the crescent moon. Moon nearest (perigee) the Earth, at 228, 992 miles.
July 12: At the first light of day, Mercury is directly below the crescent moon, low in the east-northeast. Venus at maximum brilliance in the evening sky for this month.
July 13: Planetarium show at St. Petersburg College.
July 14: New moon.
July 16: Look low to the west, left to right, after dusk to find Venus, Regulus, a very thin crescent moon and Saturn.
July 17: Just after dusk, notice that the crescent moon has moved to the upper right of Venus, with Regulus and Saturn to its right.
July 20: Mercury at its greatest angular distance from the sun in the morning sky.
July 21: Telescopes set up for viewing the sky at dusk in Gulfport and at MOSI if the skies are clear.
July 22: First-quarter moon. Moon at its greatest distance (apogee) from us, 251, 127 miles.
July 25: Jupiter above the star Antares; the moon is to their lower left in the south after sunset.
July 27: St. Pete Astronomy Club meets at the Science Center of Pinellas County at 8 p.m.
July 29: Full moon.
Daryl L. Schrader is an astronomy and mathematics professor at St. Petersburg College and teaches astronomy at the University of South Florida.