Babe Among The Stars

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy

Eclipse mania

July is quite a month astronomically speaking, with the Moon occulting the Pleiades, a lunar eclipse and a total solar eclipse to look forward to. There are over a hundred moons in our Solar System, and our Moon is the only one which can completely block out the effect of the Sun. The UK misses out on the total solar eclipse this time, but here's a map showing the path of totality. Anyone who wishes to track the eclipse can do so via Google Earth. In ancient times such astronomical events were awesome spectacles and treated as portentous. In modern times we know the mechanics of the Solar System, but the fact is, a total solar eclipse is a remarkable phenomenon and an event not to be missed if you have the opportunity. Those who experience one speak of an unforgettable, ethereal or otherworldly effect. Certainly the memory of the one I was witness to a decade ago in my own back garden will remain with me for the rest of my life. The path of totality was due to cross Devon and I live on the north east coast of England, so it was only 95% total, but still, the effect was enough – the temperature dropped like a stone, the birds stopped singing – it was like time itself stood still. Then all too soon everything went back to normal, nature magically reawakened and once again I felt the warmth of the Sun touch my skin. Such rare events—it's no wonder they scared the wits out of the ancestors!

July 2009 Diary Dates

  • 04: One of the four ancient 'Royal stars', Antares (alpha Scorpii), will be a mere half a degree south of the Moon. From some vantage points in the far east like Japan, there will be an occultation.
  • 07: There will be a penumbral lunar eclipse visible from Australia, the Pacific region, and the Americas.
  • 07: July's Full Moon is celebrated in different cultures as: the Buck Moon, the Hay Moon, the Crane Moon and the Summer Moon.
  • 10: Jupiter 4° south of Moon
  • 13: Jupiter and Neptune will have a close encounter, but only from our perspective of course. You'll probably need a powerful optical aid like binoculars or a telescope to view them just half a degree apart.
  • 14: Venus 3° north of Aldebaran. This orange giant star, catalogued alpha Tauri, has the nickname 'the eye of the bull'. It is first magnitude and one of the most distinctive stars in the heavens, even if you don't know all the constellations. Bright Venus and Aldebaran will be a mismatched pair – there's nothing to rival Venus at −4 magnitude – but definitely worth your time seeking out the encounter.
  • 18: Moon occults the Pleiades
  • 18: Mars 5° south of Moon
  • 19: Venus 6° south of Moon
  • 21: Moon at perigee. The Moon's orbit is elliptical, meaning that sometimes it is closer to the Earth than others, the difference is about 10,000km. The difference between apogee moon (furthest away) and perigee moon (closest approach) is plain to see on the APOD webpage.
  • 22: New Moon
  • 22: There will be a Total Solar Eclipse although 100% totality will only occur in India, China and some parts of Japan. If you're lucky enough to be able to see any part of a solar eclipse, do remember to follow safety guidelines on how to view, ordinary sunglasses won't protect your eyes.
  • 25: Saturn 7° north of Moon
  • 27: Mars 5° north of Aldebaran. Mars and Aldebaran will make a fabulous pairing; both the same colour and apparent size, but you'll be able to tell which is which because constant planet Mars won't twinkle like Aldebaran does.
  • 28/9: Maximum of the Delta Aquarids meteor shower. The duration is from about mid-July to mid-August, so take a look out on any dark clear night and you just might get lucky.
  • 31: Four weeks after the close encounter at the beginning of the month, Antares will once again be half a degree south of the Moon, but this time the occultation will appear from the region of south east Europe.

  • Chat about your celestial observances at the H2G2 Astronomy Society. Comment on anything in this edition of Babe Among the Stars by starting a new conversation below.

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