Friday, July 23
Saturday, July 24
Sunday, July 25
Monday, July 26
Tuesday, July 27
Wednesday, July 28
Thursday, July 29
Friday, July 30
Saturday, July 31
Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you must have a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger and deeper Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use your charts effectively.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, or the more detailed and descriptive Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope take their place? I don't think so — not for beginners, anyway, and especially not on mounts that are less than top-quality mechanically. As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
This Week's Planet Roundup
The Sun is becoming magnetically active again as it begins the upswing of its 11-year activity cycle. On Friday July 23rd, sharp-eyed observers could detect a triple spot through a solar filter without using a telescope. The active region, seen here in a monitoring image from the SOHO spacecraft, moved to the right (celestial westward) across the Sun's face in the next several days as the Sun rotated. By Sunday the 25th the trio had become a pair on the Sun's central meridian. On Monday the 26th I could not see them using the #14 arc-welder's filter I keep in my desk.
Check the group's progress at SOHO's near-real-time images of the Sun.
Mercury (magnitude 0.0) is low in the west after sunset this week. About a half hour after sundown, look for it near the horizon well to the lower right of brighter Venus. Fainter Regulus (magnitude +1.3) passes by Mercury this week; they're in conjunction on Tuesday the 27th. Binoculars will help.
Venus (magnitude –4.2, near the hind foot of Leo) is the bright Evening Star sinking in the west as twilight fades. In a telescope, Venus is now barely more than half lit. It becomes a crescent later this summer.
Mars (magnitude +1.5) is near Saturn to the upper left of bright Venus at dusk. Watch Mars close in on Saturn (which is slightly brighter) during the week. In a telescope Mars is just a tiny blob 4.8 arcseconds in diameter.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.6, in Pisces) rises around 10 or 11 p.m. daylight saving time. It shines high in the southeast in the early morning hours and is highest in the south by dawn. It's the brightest starlike point in the morning sky.
Jupiter's Great Red Spot is near System II longitude 150°. Assuming it stays there, here's a list to print out of all the Great Red Spot's predicted transit times for the rest of 2010.
Saturn (magnitude +1.1) is the slightly brighter of the two planets upper left of Venus in evening twilight. (The other is Mars.) Saturn, Mars, and Venus will bunch up in early August.
In a telescope Saturn's rings are still very narrow, just 3° from edge on, as Saturn shrinks into the distance on the far side of the Sun.
Uranus (magnitude 5.8, in Pisces) is 3° west of Jupiter. In a telescope Uranus is only 3.6 arcseconds wide, compared to Jupiter's 45″.
Neptune (magnitude 7.8, at the Aquarius-Capricornus border) is up in good view by midnight, well to Jupiter's west. See our finder charts for Uranus and Neptune in 2010.
Pluto (magnitude 14, in northwestern Sagittarius) is highest in the south in early evening. See our big Pluto finder charts in the July Sky & Telescope, page 60 — though moonlight compromises your chances for much of this week.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon or zenith — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.
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