By Darlene Danko
As I’m writing this on July 4, I have to tell you about the surprise present we got last evening. We had no chance of rain, but at 9 p.m. strong winds blew in and it rained heavily for about 10 minutes. It was a wonderful gift! Our weather has been very windy, cloudy and smoky, but no rain. The fires are so intimidating. In the 23 ½ years we’ve lived in South Fork, we’ve been evacuated twice for fires.
Then it’s hard to view the night sky when it’s covered with smoke. Only very bright objects like Venus and Jupiter are visible. I still haven’t been able to find Mercury, but I have another week to try. Using binoculars I saw something that may be it, but I’ll try again.
On July 12 Mercury will be at its greatest eastern elongation from the Sun. It’s visible at 15 degrees to the lower right of Venus. By July 17 it will disappear, so you only have a few more days to look for it. If you see the thin crescent moon on July 14, Mercury will be right below it.
The new moon is also on July 12, so the sky will be great for viewing as long as there is no smoke or clouds. Pluto is at opposition on July 12 which provided great viewing, but you will need a large telescope to see it. It’ll be 15 degrees east of Saturn.
At 1 a.m. today I got up and looked out an eastern window for Mars and Saturn. The sky had cleared and there they were! Mars was amazing. It was bigger than Jupiter and a bright red. That’s amazing for a planet that’s only two times the size of our moon.
July is Mars month when it’s bigger, brighter and redder than it’s been since 2003. By the end of this month it will rise at sunset with Saturn rising 2 hours before then. On July 27 it will be closest to the Sun and close to us on July 31, which is why it’s so big and bright.
You may remember that the Cassini Mission explored Saturn’s moon Enceladus. It’s tiny but incredibly active with huge plumes of water vapor erupting through enormous cracks in its surface. There is a global ocean below its outer ice crust.
Cassini flew through these plumes sampling them for analysis. It found water vapor, ice particles, salts, hydrogen, and simple organic compounds. New analysis of these studies shows that plumes also contain much more complex organics. This shows that the ocean meets all the requirements for life to exist.
As of now, it’s the only body outside of Earth that satisfies the basic requirements for life as we know it. At some point I’m sure there will be a mission sent to Enceladus to explore this.
There are more than 600 moons in our solar system. Some of which are very active with volcanoes, shooting ice some 200 feet into the sky. Jupiter’s Europa and Io may have oceans of water under their ice.
It’s thought that planets with rings had them created by moons and comets crashing into them, leaving many tiny particles that began to spin around the planet. Neptune’s moon Tritan is being pulled closer, and will eventually crash and turn into tiny pieces that may form rings.