The sky this week for July 12 to 15
Thursday, July 12
Today marks the peak of Pluto’s 2018 appearance. The distant world reaches opposition, which means it lies opposite the Sun in our sky and remains visible all night. It glows dimly at 14th magnitude, however, so you’ll need an 8-inch or larger telescope with good optics to spot it visually. Pluto currently lies in northeastern Sagittarius, some 0.2° west of the 6th-magnitude star 50 Sagittarii.
New Moon occurs at 10:48 p.m. EDT. At its New phase, the Moon crosses the sky with the Sun and so remains hidden in our star’s glare. At least, that’s what it will do for more than 99 percent of Earth’s population. But if you find yourself between southeastern Australia and Antarctica, you can watch the Moon pass in front of the Sun and cause a partial solar eclipse. From Hobart, Tasmania, the eclipse lasts from 2h52m to 3h56m UT, and the Moon blocks 10 percent of the Sun’s diameter at maximum. Remember that when viewing the Sun during a partial eclipse, you need to protect your eyes with a safe solar filter.
Friday, July 13
The Southern Delta Aquariid meteor shower starts to ramp up this week. The shower won’t peak until the end of July, but you should see some of its meteors in the hours before dawn. The best time to look is between 3 and 4 a.m. local daylight time, just before twilight begins. Viewing conditions are great the remainder of this week because the Moon is out of the morning sky. Unfortunately, our satellite will show a fat gibbous phase at the shower’s peak the night of July 29/30. To tell a Southern Delta Aquariid meteor from a random dust particle burning up in Earth’s atmosphere, trace the streak of light’s path backward. A shower meteor will appear to originate from the constellation Aquarius the Water-bearer.
The Moon reaches perigee, the closest point in its orbit around Earth, at 4:25 a.m. EDT. It then lies 222,097 miles (357,431 kilometers) away from us. Since perigee arrives less than six hours after New Moon, residents of coastal areas can expect to see tides rise higher than normal for the next couple of days.
Saturday, July 14
A slender crescent Moon passes 2° above Mercury in this evening’s sky. Binoculars should deliver the best views of the pair set against a colorful twilight sky.
Sunday, July 15
The Moon moves approximately 13° eastward relative to the starry background every 24 hours, and that motion carries it near Venus this evening. The crescent Moon appears just 2° to the brilliant planet’s right. The stunning duo stands 15° high in the west 45 minutes after sunset. This conjunction provides a nice photo opportunity. If you shoot the twilight scene before 9:30 p.m. local daylight time, you’ll also capture Regulus to the lower right and Mercury even closer to the horizon.
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