As the United States celebrates the historic landing of humans on the moon, astronomers are getting out their telescopes this month to see the full moon and nearby planets -- including Mars, which will be its brightest in 15 years, and Jupiter with its newly confirmed 79 moons.
National Moon Day marks the July 20, 1969 anniversary of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon. Armstrong stepped first, marking “one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin soon followed, describing the lunar surface as a "magnificent desolation."
Though not all of us can get that close, the month brings viewing opportunities to observe the moon’s beauty as well as surrounding planets.
“The moon is all inspiring and when the moon is next to planets, it makes for a great pairing in the sky,” said Dr. Jason Aufdenberg, associate professor of Physics and Astronomy and undergraduate program coordinator for Astronomy and Astrophysics, at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach, Fla., Campus.
For example, on July 20 after sunset, the moon will orbit past Jupiter. Through a telescope, observers will be able to see Jupiter as well as four of its bright moons. Jupiter has 79 orbiting moons after a team of astronomers confirmed this week the discovery of 12 new ones, according to the Carnegie Institution for Science.
“Jupiter will look like a bright star next to the moon,” Aufdenberg said. “You may also see the great storm, or what is called the Great Red Spot, which is a giant storm on Jupiter that has been raging for over 400 years and is three times the size of earth.”
As for Saturn, it will have a close encounter with the moon on July 24, giving viewers a glimpse of its rings and its brightest and largest moon Titan.
Three nights later on July 27 will bring the main attraction that Aufdenberg and other astronomers are eagerly anticipating. Mars will be the brightest since 2003 as it orbits near Earth. Aufdenberg and students from Embry-Riddle’s Astronomy Club will catch the event and provide expert assistance along with area amateur astronomers at the Summer of Planets Viewing Party at the Museum of Arts & Sciences - Planetarium in Daytona Beach. Weather permitting, telescopes will be available at the museum for a free viewing from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Throughout the night, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn will also make an appearance.
“This will be a great community event to celebrate the beauty and excitement of the planets in our night sky and the close proximity of Earth to Mars,” said Seth Mayo, Embry-Riddle alumnus and curator of astronomy at the Museum of Arts & Sciences. “People don’t always get a chance to appreciate these objects and this allows people to wonder and connect to the universe.”
Though not visible to viewers in North America, a lunar eclipse - when the Moon passes behind Earth and into its shadow - will also be seen that night in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.
For more information on the Museum of Arts & Sciences event, go to https://www.moas.org/Summer-of-Planets-Viewing-Party-7-232.html.
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