July 2020 Field of View

Original article appears in GuideStar July, 2020.

Field of View

By Don Selle
Guidestar Editor

By ESA - European Space Agency & Max-Planck Institute for Solar System Research for OSIRIS Team ESA/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA -

Summer begins in earnest in July, with high daytime temps and matching levels of humidity. This might discourage some from outdoor activities, but July is one of the best months of the year for astronomy.

July is typically a good month to visit the HAS dark site, especially during the period beginning of the 3rd quarter moon through new moon. This July, that means from the weekend of July 11 -12 through the weekend of the 18th and 19th. The sun sets later in the evening, making it possible to arrive at the site in the early evening and still have plenty of time to get set for a night of observing. When the sun starts to set, on most evenings cooler temperatures make outdoor activities like astronomy possible. Breezes are typically light, and those clouds that seemed heavy all day somehow seem to evaporate.

{ Reminder – Covid-19 Protocols for use of the HAS Dark Site remain in effect – please see:https://www.astronomyhouston.org/content/has-observatory-use-during-covid-19 }

While nights are shorter the July brings the summer Milky Way. By the end of astronomical twilight, it is ready to be observed for its whole length, from Cygnus in the north to Sagittarius in the south, and it just gets better as the night progresses. This July also kicks off a new season for observing and imaging Mars.

Mars rises soon after midnight, and by the end of the month it culminates just before dawn. Throughout the month, Mars will continue to brighten as it gets closer to Earth as it moves ins on its way towards opposition in October. At opposition, it will be up throughout the night and it will appear larger and brighter than it has been since the summer of 2018.

If you are a beginning or experienced planetary imager, July is a good time to start to focus on Mars. As you get more experience in imaging the red planet, you will become be ready capture the best possible images of Mars when it is closest to Earth at its opposition in mid-October. As an added benefit, you can also use these “practice” images to illustrate how Mars gets larger in the telescope, and its features more prominent as it approaches.

You can learn more about  the upcoming opposition of Mars  at https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/why-is-mars-sometimes-bright-and-sometimes-faint

July 2020 will also be the start of an extended season of Mars.  If all goes well, on July 22, the Perseverance Mars Rover will launce from Cape Canaveral on its way to the red planet. It is scheduled landing  at Jezero crater on February 18, 2021. Its mission will span (at least) one full Martian year (687 earth days), meaning it should still be in operation at the next opposition of Mars in December 2022.

Perseverance is the latest NASA rover mission to Mars, and while all of them have had instruments to help us understand the Martian environment, Perseverance has as one of its specific goals to search for, and hopefully find evidence of ancient life. Its mission will be watched closely by the public as the any discovery of evidence of life on Mars will be huge!

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