Space – Dark Skies, A Jupiter-Moon Encounter And Boeing’s ‘Launch America:’ What You Can See In The Night Sky This Week
Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.
What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: July 26-August 1, 2021
This week is a fine one to spend planet-gazing. Saturn and Jupiter and both coming up on their “oppositions,” annual events where Earth passes between them and the Sun, in turn. Around those dates—August 3 for Saturn and August 19 for Jupiter—they’re 100% illuminated and as big and bright as they ever get in our night sky. Look to the southeast a couple of hours after dark and Jupiter is already impossible to miss in a clear sky.
This week the Moon pays a visit to that giant planet, the Delta Aquarid meteor shower strikes then a dwindling Mars shines next to bright star Regulus. It’s also a great week to get eyes-on with the summer-only constellation of Scorpius and its bright star Antares (details below!).
Spaceflight-lovers will also be following the progress of part two of “Launch America” as Boeing bids to ape SpaceX by launching NASA astronauts into orbit. This week comes its (hopefully) final test flight.
Here’s everything you need to know to see all of that and more:
Monday, July 26, 2021: Moon and Jupiter
Jupiter is now dominating the night sky a couple of hours after dark, shining brightly at a magnitude of -2.8 in the southeastern sky. Tonight it’s visited by a 93%-lit waning gibbous Moon, which will shine about 4° away to its lower left. Look to Jupiter’s upper-right and you’ll see the much dimmer Saturn at a magnitude of 0.2.
Wednesday, July 28, 2021: Delta Aquarid meteor shower
It’s peak night tonight for this mid-range meteor shower, which could see about 15 or 20 “shooting stars” per hour viewable from a dark sky site. Since the Moon will be 72% illuminated and rising around midnight it’s doubtful you’ll see that many, but the best time will likely be the pre-dawn hours.
Thursday, July 29, 2021: Mars and Regulus
Here’s one for the keen eyed, binocular-toting planet-gazer. Get yourself outside with a view low to the western horizon just after sunset and you may see Mars—now incredibly dim and only observable through optical aids—just 0.6° from the Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo.
Friday, July 30, 2021: Boeing’s own ‘Launch America’
It’s part two of May 2020’s “Launch America!” At 2:53 p.m. EDT today on NASA TV and YouTube you can watch Boeing’s “Starliner” spacecraft launch uncrewed to the International Space Station (ISS).
This Orbital Flight Test 2 is the last one—in theory—before Starliner takes NASA astronauts to the ISS, just as SpaceX began doing last year. This test comes after a failed test flight in December 2019.
Saturday, July 31, 2021: Last Quarter Moon
At 13:16 Universal Time today our satellite will reach its Last Quarter phase. It essentially means that the Moon rises after midnight, clearing the way for 10 successive nights of dark, moonless skies.
Object of the week: Antares, ‘rival of Mars’
Around 550 light years distant and found below the constellation of Ophiuchus and between Libra and Sagittarius, Antares is one of the biggest stars we know of. It would stretch to the orbit of Mars if it was put at the center of our Solar System.
A red supergiant, it’s often confused with Mars because of its metallic orangey-red appearance (especially through binoculars). Just 12 million years old, Antares belongs to the Scorpius-Centaurus Association, a loose grouping of relatively close stars in Scorpius and Crux (the latter constellation is only visible from the southern hemisphere).
Constellation of the week: Scorpius, the scorpion
You’ve already found the chief star of Scorpius, Antares. Best viewed June through August, to see the unmistakable line of stars that comprise Scorpius is a treat indeed. Marking the tip of the scorpion’s curved tail, close to the horizon, are Shaula and Lesath, which are sometimes called the “Cat’s Eyes.”
Times and dates given apply to mid-northern latitudes. For the most accurate location-specific information consult online planetariums like Stellarium and The Sky Live. Check planet-rise/planet-set, sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times for where you are.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.