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Pluto comes to opposition on 10 July, and its nearest to Earth on 7 July, when it is 4839 million kilometres or 4.5 light hours away. It is smaller than Earth’s moon, about two-thirds its diameter, and such a long way away that only the largest telescopes can see it from Earth. Nevertheless, the New Horizons probe has sent back lots of wonderful images and information about the dwarf planet and its large moon, Charon. We now know that Pluto has a thin atmosphere, a renewing and moving surface, and possible internal heat creating a deep sub-surface ocean.
Jupiter is very bright in the evening sky, setting towards midnight. If you have good binoculars or a telescope, do take the opportunity to try to make out its cloud bands, and most especially the Great Red Spot, a storm that has lasted 180 years, and maybe a lot longer. Jupiter rotates in less than ten hours, so the spot doesn’t take long to come back into view. Look also for its four main moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, at least two of which may have life in their subsurface oceans. They orbit more quickly than our own moon, and change position from night to night. Our moon is near Jupiter in the sky on 30 June?/?1 July.
Saturn shines brightly in the south of Ophiuchus in the evening and early night sky, gradually fading as the month goes on. The moon is near on the night 6/7 July. Venus shines in the eastern morning sky. On 11 July, it passes between Aldebaran and the Pleiades in Taurus. On 20 July, the old crescent moon is near Venus and Aldebaran, and indeed passes in front of Aldebaran as seen from much of Asia. Mars is out of view behind the sun.
At dark moon on 21 August, there is a total eclipse of the sun visible from the USA. The total eclipse can be seen in
Salem and Albany, Oregon at 10:18 (17:18 UTC) (Eugene is too far south, and Portland just too far north)
Just north of Boise, Idaho at 11:28 (17:28 UTC)
Idaho Falls, Idaho 11:35 (17:35 UTC)
Casper, Wyoming at 11:44 (17:44 UTC)
North Platte, Nebraska at 12:56 (17:56 UTC)
Lincoln, Nebraska at 13:04 (18:04 UTC) (just on the northern edge of the shadow)
St Joseph, Missouri at 13:08 (18:08 UTC)
Kansas City, Kansas/Missouri at 13:10 (18:10 UTC) (just on the southern edge)
Columbia, Missouri at 13:14 (18:14 UTC)
St Louis, Missouri at 13:19 (18:19 UTC) (just on the northern edge)
Carbondale, Illinois at 13:22 (18:22 UTC)
Madisonville, Kentucky at 13:26 (18:26 UTC)
Nashville, Tennessee at 13:30 (18:30 UTC) (on the southern edge)
just south of Knoxville, Tennessee at 14:36 (18:35 UTC)
Greenville, South Carolina at 14:40 (18:40 UTC)
Columbia, South Carolina at 14:44 (18:44 UTC)
Charleston and Georgetown, South Carolina at 14:48 (18:48 UTC) (southern and northern edge, coast)
A partial eclipse is visible throughout the United States, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Britain & Ireland, SW Norway, western Brittany, NW Galicia, the Azores, Madeira, NW Cape Verde Islands, Bermuda, all of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guinea, Surinam, NE Peru and northern Brazil, as far south as Brasília. Also far NE Siberia and much of the Arctic.
In San Francisco, 75% of the sun is covered at 10:18 (17:18 UTC)
Vancouver 86% of the sun covered at 10:21 (17:21 UTC)
Ciudad de México 27% at 13:16 (18:16 UTC)
Chicago 87% of sun covered at 13:21 (18:21 UTC)
New Orleans 75% of the sun covered at 13:29 (18:29 UTC)
Reykjavik 2% at 18:44 UTC
New York 71% at 14:47 (18:47 UTC)
Glasgow 2% at 19:56 (18:56 UTC)
Miami 78% at 14:47 (18:57 UTC)
Leeds 3% at 19:58 (18:58 UTC)
Dublin 4% at 20:00 (19:00 UTC)
London 4% at 20:02 (19:02 UTC) at sunset
Cardiff 4% at 20:03 (19:03 UTC)
Cork 5% at 20:03 (19:03 UTC)
Penzance 6% at 20:05 (19:05 UTC)
Quimper 7% at 21:08 (19:08 UTC) near sunset
Kingston, Jamaica 58% at 14:16 (19:16 UTC)
Santiago de Compostela 13% at 21:18 (19:18 UTC) near sunset
Georgetown, Guyana 53% at 15:57 (19:57 UTC)
Brasília 2% at 17:16 (20:16 UTC)
At full moon on 7 August, there is a partial eclipse of the moon best seen from Asia, Australia and New Zealand, as well as eastern parts of Europe and Africa. From Britain and Ireland, the eclipse is almost over by moonrise, but you may just be able to detect some darkening on the moon’s southern limb. The penumbral eclipse starts 16:50 (15:50 UTC) and ends 21:50 (20:50 UTC), and near those ties it will be hard to detect anything unusual; the partial phase lasts 18:22 to 20:18 (17:22 to 19:18 UTC); there is no total phase, as the moon is a bit too far north.
On 30 July, Mercury reaches 27.20°E of the sun in the western evening sky, a really excellent view from Earth’s southern hemisphere, where the planet can be seen for a few weeks. Despite Mercury’s great elongation from the sun, the view from the north is very poor, as the planet is south of the ecliptic, which, in any case, here falls at a very low angle to the horizon. Jupiter shines brightly in the early and mid-evening sky, slowly moving towards Spica in Virgo. The moon is nearby on 28 July. Saturn is in the evening sky in the south of Ophiuchus, setting earlier and growing fainter as the month goes on. The moon is nearby on the evenings of 2 & 3 Aug. Venus is the bright morning planet. On 2 August, it passes 2.4°S of Ceres. The moon is near on 19 August. Mars is out of view behind the sun. Look out for the Perseid meteors on 12 & 13 August, somewhat difficult this year because of the bright moon from mid-evening onwards.