Monday, June 29, 2009

Venus and Mars in High Contrast

Monday, June 29, 2009

As the nation celebrates another birthday, see the spangled Venus and a dim Mars in July before dawn's early light.

Mars, our neighboring red planet, rises about 3 a.m. in the northeastern sky, followed shortly by a brilliant Venus. Both can be seen high in the east before sunrise in the constellation Taurus, but the differences are striking. Venus, at a negative fourth magnitude, is very bright; Mars is much less so at first magnitude and is even harder to see in light-polluted urban areas. By the end of July, Venus is seen lower in the eastern heavens.

Late night with Jupiter: The largest planet in the solar system rises in the east-southeast about 11 p.m. After midnight you should see it snuggled between the constellations Aquarius and Capricornus. It's a negative second magnitude, very bright and easily seen from the city. By 4 a.m., Jupiter is high in the southwest.

Still loitering in the constellation Leo, see ringed Saturn high in the western sky after sundown. The planet remains visible at first magnitude. By month's end, the planet will be noticeably lower in the west after dusk.

Although it won't be visible in the United States, a total solar eclipse will occur over Asia and the Pacific Ocean -- for 6 minutes and 39 seconds -- on July 22. Eclipse expert Fred Espenak, of the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, offers details at

It's been 40 years since the lunar module Eagle landed on the moon with less than a half-minute of fuel remaining. After landing, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong took his small step for man and giant leap for mankind July 20, 1969. A number of events noted below celebrate the anniversary.

Down-to-Earth Events

-- July 5 -- Astronomer Matthew Burger discusses "Europa: Ice, Oceans and Life?" at the open house at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. View the night sky afterward, weather permitting. 9 p.m. 301-405-6555;

-- July 11 and July 25 -- Planets and Messier objects and constellations, oh my! The Astronomical Society of Greenbelt hosts a star party at the observatory at Northway Fields Park in Greenbelt. 9 p.m.

-- July 16 -- Family Day -- "Countdown to the Moon!" -- at the National Air and Space Museum, the Mall. Find out about lunar missions past and future. Meet moon researchers and see 3-D, high-definition images of the moon's surface. 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.


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