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A.M. and P.M. planets in July skies

Saturday - 7/2/2011, 11:23am  ET

tycho_cpeak_oblique.jpg
This Week's Astrophoto: A Peek at the Peak! This incredible photograph of the central peak of the lunar crater Tycho was taken last month by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. (NASA)

Greg Redfern, wtop.com

Whether you look at the sky in the early morning before dawn or just after sunset, July offers planets to suit you. We also will have the last ever launch of a Space Shuttle on the 8th and a lot of summer star party events. So get out and enjoy the sky this month

Skywatching Highlights

Mercury will be in the west-northwest after sunset until the 20th. If you have a clear and unobstructed horizon you should be able to see golden-yellow Mercury about 45 minutes after sunset. On the 2nd, Mercury will be just above the thin crescent Moon. Binoculars will help you find the elusive planet. Also get the latest on the MESSENGER mission at Mercury here.

Venus is very low in the east-northeast and visible about a half hour before sunrise.

Earth is farthest from the Sun on the 4th - 94,512,000 miles or a difference of 1.67 percent from the average distance or 3.3 percent from the minimum distance. Doesn't do much to cool the summer temps around here!

Mars is dim in the east-northeast and visible about an hour before sunrise. The thin crescent Moon will be just above and to the right of Mars on the 27th. Use the Moon as a guide to finding Mars. The next NASA mission to Mars, Mars Science Laboratory, named Curiosity, is at Cape Kennedy undergoing final checkout for a launch later in the year.

NASA's DAWN mission finally arrives at Vesta on the 16th. The spacecraft will enter orbit and study the second largest asteroid in the main belt up close and personal for a year. Then DAWN will set sail for the largest asteroid, Ceres.

Jupiter claims its' title "King of the Planets" as it dominates the eastern sky rising at about 2 a.m. as July begins and at around midnight as the month ends. The gibbous Moon will be just to the left of Jupiter on the 24th. NASA's next mission to Jupiter is called Juno and you can read more about it here.

Saturn is up in the south sky at sunset. The ringed planet is close to a famous double star, Porrima (Gamma Virginis) all month long. The Moon glides below this duo on the 7th. NASA's Cassini mission is till going strong and you can read about it here.

New Moon is on the 1st and the 30th, First Quarter Moon is on the 8thth and this month's Full Moon occurs on the 15th. This month's Full Moon is called the "Full Buck Moon" in recognition of the new antlers seen on bucks. Last Quarter Moon is on the 23rd. Just before dawn (4 a.m.) the waning crescent Moon passes to the right of the Pleiades star cluster on the 25th. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter remains in orbit around the Moon.

Here are our down to Earth events for this month:

Got a Topic That Interests You? I literally have a whole universe of topics to select from for my column. But I'm interested in hearing from WTOP readers about what interests them. Feel free to contact me at skyguyinva@gmail.com with your suggestions and comments. I have also started a daily blog that you can follow here.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)