~ St. Maarten’s Backyard Astronomy ~
Sun rises at 5:46am
Sun sets at 6:50pm
Lunar phase: fourth quarter, waning
Moon rises at 3:38am, Saturday
Moon sets at 5:12pm, Saturday
Upcoming event: Meteor Showers stretching from July 24 to August 10.
This weekend, the moon will be vanishingly slim and even then you’ll only see it just before sunrise. By Monday, the true new moon phase is in place, meaning no moon at all to our eyes. Why does the moon disappear from view once a month? It's a function, once again, of the sweeping dance between our sun, our moon, and ourselves here on the planet Earth.
As the moon circles the earth in an eternal gravitational embrace, one side of the moon is always brightly lit by the distant sun, and of course the opposite side is always dark and blending into the blackness of space. But we on earth see different aspects of those bright and dark sides, thus we have the phases of the moon.
This weekend, the bright side of the moon is aimed mostly away from earth – or thinking of it another way, the moon is currently between the earth and the sun. By the way, the word month is derived from the word moon, showing that our calendar is based on this cycle and the knowledge of it was useful for keeping time long before clocks or calendars.
All this comes to giving us an especially dark sky this weekend and if the clouds will cooperate, you should have a great star-filled sky to enjoy throughout the coming nights. As soon as the sky darkens in the evening, look south to find two bright navigational beacons, Rigil Kent and Hadar, they will be quite low on the horizon.
If you are very lucky, you may glimpse the Southern Cross just to their right, but this iconic constellation of the southern hemisphere sets by 8:00pm on Saturday with the two “pointer stars” following to the horizon by 10:00pm.
Looking higher in the sky and a bit to the left (east), you should see Scorpio and Sagittarius. The Milky Way stretches across the sky diagonally, crossing between these two horoscope images. Below the teapot-shaped Sagittarius, (a star pattern that is so much more recognizable as a teapot than a centaur), you should easily find a delicate circlet of stars called the Corona Australis or Southern Crown. Keep looking up and left to see the planets Saturn and Jupiter just past the “teapot’s” handle.
Later in the night, around midnight or so, look directly overhead to see the bright star Vega in the small constellation Lyra the Harp. Nearly two huge constellations dominate the celestial dome, both birds that can be imagined to be flying away from Sagittarius and Scorpio and towards the northeastern horizon. These are Aquila the Eagle and Cygnus the Swan.
Farther east, you may observe the Great Square of Pegasus rising up from the horizon, followed by the planet Mars. By 4:00am, the planet Venus is rising, the morning star heralding the new day. This is a great time to search for the Comet Neowise which has been impressing many, although, so far, this stargazer hasn't found it in our often cloudy predawn skies. Anyone having better luck than I’ve had can please send a note via my email below.
We all need encouragement to keep waking early and scanning the skies, but the photos I’ve seen from fellow enthusiasts seem to show the effort is well worth it.