By David L. Richards
Special to the Beacon Journal
Published on Sunday, Jun 28, 2009
The first of July brings us the gas giants Jupiter in the east and Saturn in the west about 11 p.m. Saturn will set 30 minutes later, and Jupiter will rise, accompanied by Neptune, only a degree and a half above.
During the second week of July, the planets are separated by only half a degree. You'll need binoculars to see Neptune, as it glows right below the eye's ability to see it, at magnitude 7.85. Jupiter shines at magnitude -2.7, about as bright as it will be all year. On July 9 and 10, a waning gibbous moon joins the two planets.
Saturn, still in Leo, and a sliver of the waxing crescent moon drop together below the horizon on July 25 at 9:30 p.m. Because of Saturn's distance (51 million miles) and edge-on ring system, it shines only at magnitude 1.1, unusually faint for the ringed planet.
The early morning hours — from 3 a.m. on — show Venus, Mars, Uranus, Neptune and Jupiter marching across the southern horizon. Venus is unmistakable at magnitude -4.0. During the first week of July, Mercury will pop up an hour before sunrise, and then become lost in the sun's glare. The early morning hours of July 18 show Venus, Mars, a waning crescent moon and the Pleiades, all grouped in the constellation Taurus.
You may hear of a lunar eclipse on July 7, but the dimming from the Earth's shadow will be so slight, we won't notice it.
Going east this month? The longest-occurring solar eclipse in anybody's remaining lifetime will occur on July 22. India, China, Japan and the south Pacific will be the place to be. Unfortunately, the longest period of totality — 6 minutes and 39 seconds — can be observed about 200 miles east of Iwo Jima, right in the middle of the ocean. Have fun holding your binoculars steady on deck.
Q: I just finished a novel about the finding of a meteorite in the Antarctic, and it ended up becoming a science fiction story — the meteorite turned out to be an enormous seed from space. Just how crazy is that? — C.B., Dover.
A: According to Hoyle, not a bit. Sir Fred Hoyle, the famous British astronomer of the last century, was a proponent of ''panspermia.'' The idea that Earth was ''seeded'' by spores or seeds from beyond was first proposed in the 5th century B.C. by the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras.
While the theory cannot be proved or disproved, space is a harsh environment for life, full of radiation, cosmic rays and stellar winds. The majority of the scientific community believes that extraterrestrial life probably does exist somewhere, far, far away, but it probably did not spread throughout the universe with a great cosmic sneeze.
In celebration of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy, the Hoover-Price Planetarium will present One Earth. One Sky, at 1 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. The program will change as astronomical discoveries occur and interplanetary missions are launched. Throughout the year we will be announcing public viewing events.
The planetarium is included with admission to the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum. Call 330-455-7043 for information.
David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, 44708, http://www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043 firstname.lastname@example.org. To see original post click here