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home : education : schools July 25, 2017

6/27/2017 11:30:00 AM
Stars over Sisters
By Nancy Montecinos

As the sun begins to set earlier in the evening and the days become warmer there are many beautiful objects to see here in the night sky. The month of July brings us warm nights with many exciting stars, planets, and deep-sky objects to discover.

One of the best constellations to see in the July sky is Hercules. Many have heard the name, however they may not know it is the fifth-largest constellation, and it fills 1,225 square degrees in the sky. In Greek mythology Hercules was the son of Zeus and Alcmene. Hera (Zeus' wife) was angry about his affair and promised eternal misery for Hercules. After completely driving him mad and causing him to kill his wife and children he asked for atonement. As Hercules' atonement, he had to serve king Eurystheus and had to complete twelve labors, which he is best known for. He is often depicted kneeling with his right hand raised holding a club. Alpha Herculis is Hercules' head while the Keystone is his torso. The Keystone is made up of the bright stars Pi, Eta, Zeta and Epsilon Herculis. When looking for the constellation in the sky its stars are dim however it is quite easy to find. Hercules is bordered by many other constellations, to the north is Draco, to the south, Ophiuchus. The crown Corona Borealis also shines near the two adjacent keystone trapezoids of Hercules.

Beyond stars, Hercules also includes deep-sky objects. One intriguing deep-sky object in Hercules is Messier 13 (M13) also known as the Hercules Globular Cluster. It is one of the most illuminated star clusters in the northern hemisphere. However, you will need binoculars to see it.

The next full moon occurs on July 9, when the sun and moon will both be located on opposite sides of the Earth.

Then on July 23 the moon will begin its next lunar cycle, and the dark skies will allow us to see star clusters and galaxies with no moonlight interference. You may wonder why we have such dark skies with the new moon. During the time of the new moon the night skies are especially dark and ideal for star viewing because the moon is on the same side of the Earth as the Sun. We see no moon at all, and then gradually each night the moon's crescent grows larger until it is again fully illuminated by the sun.

Mark your calendars for July 29 and 30, bring a few friends, and go out to see the Delta Aquarids Meteor shower. This meteor shower goes on from July 12 to August 23. However July 29 and 30 this year are the main days of this meteor shower. The shower can peak with up to 20 meteors in an hour! The shower occurs due to the debris left behind by the two comets Marsden and Kracht. The best viewing times are after midnight and before dawn.

Planets are also a great thing to spot in the night sky. Elusive Mercury will be visible in the west just after sunset, and on July 30, Mercury reaches its greatest eastern elongation from the sun. This is the best time to see Mercury because it will be at its highest point above the horizon. Jupiter and Saturn will also continue to be bright night-sky objects.

If you are interested in joining the community in viewing the night sky, the Sisters Astronomy Club will be leading the next Stars Over Sisters night sky tour with telescopes and a short presentation on Saturday, July 15 starting in the classroom of Sisters Park & Recreation District building at 9 p.m., and then moving to the sidewalk west of the high school for night-sky viewing.

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