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July 10, 2009 at
Love the night sky? Then you'll love our new weekly astronomy post by Trails community member Kelly Kizer Whitt. Check out her first post and bio below, then welcome her with a comment! -- Tioga Jenny
One of the best ways to become familiar with the night sky is to learn a few constellations connected to the brightest stars. In July, the Summer Triangle is an easy place to start. Follow the link to learn three of the brightest stars appearing as the sky darkens along with their constellations.
On most nights, one or two of the brightest stars you see in the sky are not stars at all, but planets. On July 10, Jupiter appears by an 87%-lit moon. A steadily-held pair of binoculars will show Jupiter's four brightest moons circling the planet. Sometimes not all can be seen because they are passing in front of or behind Jupiter, as Io does in the late evening on July 10 when it occults Jupiter. Saturn can be found after sunset this weekend, setting about two hours behind the sun.
Saturn is currently in the constellation Leo the Lion, which looks a bit like a backward question mark. This year Saturn is dimmer than usual because it is tilting so that the rings are almost edge-on as seen from Earth. This angle means that the planet has less surface area visible to reflect sunlight toward us.
"Summer Sky" image: NASA/JPL
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Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com.