What's Up in

SW Florida Skies

July 2021:


Moon Phases July 2021:

01      10       17       24                31

3Q     New    1Q       Full Moon      3Q

The planetarium is  presenting mask-recommended, safely-distanced planetarium shows 7 days/week at 12:15 pm and at 2:15 pm. Because a safely-spaced "space" show means less than 50% seating capacity, please get tickets or planetarium stamps at the front desk and arrive at least ten minutes before the scheduled show time to be relatively sure of getting seats. We do have hand sanitizer stations in the lobby, and we thank you for helping us keep everyone safe by distancing, wearing your masks (recommended especially if not vaccinated) throughout the show and using the sanitizer upon entry. Thank you!


Our theme for July 2021 is Studying Space & Time. We are showing four different planetarium shows this month, two on odd-numbered days and the other two on even-numbered days, so that visitors can attend planetarium shows at noon and at 2:15 pm two days in a row and never see the same shows twice!  Check the calendar and click on each item for a full description. We recently  installed a brand-new glorious surround-sound system, so that, coupled with our new-in-2020 laser-phosphor projector (Digitarium Lambda Plus), you should have a great "being there" experience with all of our shows.


When the waning crescent moon rises in the east at about 2 a.m. local time on Sunday, July 4, it will be positioned a few fingers' width to the right (or 5 degrees to the celestial southwest) of the "magnitude 5.8" planet Uranus (YOO-rah-nuss), which is close enough for them to both be in your field of view in binoculars. Uranus will be much easier to see through binoculars than without them, but definitely prop them on something so that you are holding them VERY steady. Try to find the planet before about 4:30 a.m. local time. Since you're up already, maybe catch a few pre-dawn meteors, and then Mercury, too, after 5:45! Here's why: after midnight (but especially just an hour before dawn) our location on Earth is facing into the direction of Earth's orbital travel around the Sun (that's kind of how local timekeeping is defined, by where our location is, in relation to the Sun in our sky), so meteors zoom through our local sky like bugs hitting a windshield -- before midnight, they have to make it around the curve of Earth's bulk to get into our local sky! Here's an image of what the eastern sky will look like predawn on the 4th if it's not too cloudy:

During much of July, Mercury will be visible low in the east-northeastern pre-dawn sky, but on Sunday, the 4th of July, as  seen above, the swiftly-moving planet will reach its maximum angle of 22 degrees west of the sun, which is peak visibility (for Mercury). The best time to see the planet will come between 5:45 a.m. and 6:15, when Mercury will sit pretty low in the east-northeastern sky, but it will be the lower-left of two bright dots -- the upper right-hand bright dot is the red giant Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. Above them, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, and above and to the right (west) of that, the crescent moon sits beside the hard-to-spot Uranus.

Mornings/Evenings: The sun now rises and sets farther and farther south each day, although still north of east and north of west, and the Summer Triangle is high up for most of the night, announcing that Summer is Here. 

Brilliant Venus is our "evening star which is really a planet!" for the entire summer, so that is the bright dot you will see in the west right after sunset. In the first several days of the month, Venus will overtake and pass a much dimmer and ruddier planet Mars, which is now just about as far as it ever gets from Earth (while still visible).

Saturn and Jupiter will be visible from late evening to just before dawn, rising in the ESE and with Jupiter high in the S (and Saturn SW) by the time the Sun brightens the sky. Remember, Saturn and Jupiter had their Great Conjunction back in December; they have been getting farther apart in the sky since then but are still close enough to be notable.


At sunset, Venus will be approaching the "backwards question mark" of Leo, facing down into the western horizon, with the triangle of the Lion's haunches to the east of the "backwards question mark" of the mane and front paws. Looking straight north from Leo, you will see the Big Dipper positioned in line with it: when Leo is up, so is the Big Dipper, although the dipper will be up longer than Leo will since it is farther north (closer to Polaris, so it only sets for a couple of hours out of every 24h at this latitude).

About an hour after sunset, looking South you will see a bright yellow star with a bright blue star to the right of it. That yellow star is our nearest neighbor in the entire Milky Way: the "Alpha Centauri" triple star system. The nearest component of that system, called Proxima Centauri, has planets in the habitable zone of the star, and at least one of them (Proxima Centauri b) is of "terrestrial" mass, at 1.3 Earth masses. At 4.2 light years away, you can practically wave and say, "howdy, neighbor!"


To the left and a bit higher above the horizon than brilliant yellow Alpha Centauri, you can admire the red giant star Antares in the constellation of Scorpius: the entire "curly J" shape of Scorpius is visible to your southeast, rising higher and tilting to the right as the night hours advance. To the east of Scorpius you will see the "Teapot" of Sagittarius from late night (SE) right through into to the predawn sky (SW) after Scorpius sets.

This month's planetarium shows have descriptions posted in our calendar. Just click on the individual days and then on the items in our Calendar to see a full description of the shows or events for that day.

Our friends at the SW Florida Astronomical Society's regular first-Thursday open meetings may be Zoom meetings this summer (open to SWFAS members only unless arranged in advance, see their website (below) for contact info): Zoom for Covid-avoidance, and because many great SWFAS members are traveling in the summertime! Watch their site for updates: www.theEyepiece.org.

To spot the International Space Station moving through your sky, try NASA's Spot The Station website! Or to add in the Hubble and various other bright satellites, you can try Sky & Telescope's Tracker page.

Visit the Planetarium for updates on all of our space-related wonders!  You can even rent the planetarium, for your own space-themed party, wedding, memorial service, meeting, meditation session, or other cosmic event. Don't forget the masks, though, please, whether regular or space-themed.


Hope to see you soon at the Center, 

– Heather Preston, Planetarium Director