This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Friday, July 24, 2020.

Information updated weekly or as needed.

Times given as local St. Louis time (CDT).  For definitions of terminology used in the night sky update, click the highlighted text.

Star parties at the Saint Louis Science Center have been canceled due to recommendations from the CDC regarding COVID-19. All public telescope events are canceled until further notice. As conditions change, we will reevaluate and update this article once public observing events resume.

The Sun and Moon


The Moon as seen from the International Space Station, on July 31, 2011.
Credit: NASA

Sunrise is at 5:56 a.m. on Friday, July 24 and sunset is at 8:18 p.m. providing us with about 14.5 hours of daylight. Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will dimly illuminate our sky for roughly 2 hours. This period is called twilight, which ends around 10:07 p.m. this week. For those with a sundial, local noon occurs around 1:08 p.m. this week.

DaySunriseSunset
2020-07-24 5:56 a.m.8:18 p.m.
2020-07-25 5:57 a.m.8:18 p.m.
2020-07-26 5:58 a.m.8:17 p.m.
2020-07-27 5:59 a.m.8:16 p.m.
2020-07-28 6:00 a.m.8:15 p.m.
2020-07-29 6:01 a.m.8:14 p.m.
2020-07-306:01 a.m.8:13 p.m.
2020-07-31 6:02 a.m.8:12 p.m.
2020-08-01 6:03 a.m.8:11 p.m.

Moonrise for Friday, July 24 occurs on the previous day at 10:12 p.m. and moonset will occur at 11:14 p.m. On Friday, July 24 the Moon will exhibit a waxing crescent phase with about 18% of the lunar disk illuminated. First quarter moon occurs on July 27 at 7:33 a.m.

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

Credit: NASA

Visible passes of ISS from St. Louis for the week of July 24 occur during morning and evening hours. The best of these occur on the evenings of July 31 and August 1. Use the table below for information about these and other visible passes of ISS.

Catch ISS from St. Louis starting Friday, July 24

Date Starts  Max. altitude  Ends  
TimeAlt.Az.TimeAlt.Az.TimeAlt.Az.
24 July-0.9 22:44:2910NNW 22:46:0213NNE 22:47:2510NE
25 July-1.1 23:32:2210NNW 23:33:4820NNW 23:33:4820NNW
26 July-1.6 22:44:3610NNW 22:47:1421NNE 22:47:2021NNE
27 July-1.2 21:56:5310NNW 21:59:0116NNE 22:00:5211NE
27 July-0.9 23:32:5310NW 23:33:4717NW 23:33:4717NW
28 July-2.3 22:44:5610NW 22:47:2136N 22:47:2136N
29 July-2.3 21:57:0410NNW 22:00:0329NNE 22:00:5825ENE
30 July-1.7 21:09:1510NNW 21:11:5220NNE 21:14:2610ENE
30 July-2.1 22:45:3210WNW 22:47:3131WNW 22:47:3131WNW
31 July-3.9 21:57:2810NW 22:00:4976NE 22:01:1364E
01 Aug-3 21:09:2910NW 21:12:4443NE 21:14:5618E
01 Aug-1.1 22:46:5010W 22:47:5115W 22:47:5115W

Magnitude (Mag): The Measure of brightness for a celestial object.  The lower the value is, the brighter the object will be.

Altitude (Alt):  The angle of a celestial object measured upwards from the observer’s horizon.

Azimuth (Az):  The direction of a celestial object, measured clockwise from an observer’s location with north being 0°, east being 90°, south being 180° and west being 270°.

For information about ISS flyovers and other visible satellites, visit www.heavens-above.com

Detailed information regarding all unmanned exploration of our universe, missions past, present, and planned, can be found at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Visible Planets


Sky from St. Louis, at 9:15 pm, July 24, 2020
Credit: Stellarium, EG


Looking East, 5:00 am, July 25, 2020
Credit: Stellarium, EG

This week, all five naked eye planets are visible. Jupiter and Saturn rise before sunset. Look for them rising in the southeast and after midnight they will be in the south. Mars will be best seen in the south a few hours before sunrise. Mercury and Venus are in the eastern sky before sunrise.

For those tracking Jupiter and Saturn as they approach their great conjunction later this year, the two gas giants currently appear about 7.2° apart in the sky. Jupiter appears to be moving away from Saturn right now due to retrograde motion. This is all an illusion caused by Earth passing by slower moving Jupiter. Saturn has also started retrograde motion. If you keep watching these planets as 2020 progresses, you will see some interesting behaviors that inspired early astronomers to track the skies.

Mercury

Mercury will be visible in the east about 40 minutes before sunrise. Mercury will continue to elongate from the Sun until July 22 when it reaches maximum western elongation. After this date Mercury will head back towards the Sun as it approaches superior conjunction on August 17.

Venus

Venus has begun another morning apparition. After months of seeing Venus in the west after sunset Venus is now visible in the east before sunrise. Venus rises at 3:00 a.m. and will be easily seen by 3:30 a.m. Venus remains a morning object until March 26, 2021 when it reaches superior conjunction.  Venus reaches maximum western elongation on August 12, 2020.

Mars

The red planet rises around 11:45 p.m. and will be high enough to see in the southeast by 12:30 a.m. Opposition for Mars occurs on October 13, 2020. As we head towards this date Mars will appear brighter and larger through a telescope improving surface details. Surface features are already visible when viewing conditions are favorable.

Jupiter

Look for Jupiter in the southeast about 30 minutes after sunset. Those with a telescope can enjoy views of Jupiter’s cloud features and the Great Red Spot when it is pointed towards Earth.

Saturn

Saturn reached opposition and will rise before the Sun sets. Look for the ringed planet in the southeast about 45 minutes after sunset. For those with a telescope keep track of the orientation of Saturn’s rings.  Since Saturn is tilted on its rotational axis, we cross the plane of Saturn’s ring every 13 to 15 years.  We are headed towards another ring plane crossing on March 23, 2025. Over the next five years you will notice Saturn’s rings will gradually incline towards an edge on appearance.

2020 Great Conjunction

This year the planets Jupiter and Saturn will reach conjunction.  A conjunction is when two or more celestial bodies share the same right ascension.  For Jupiter and Saturn this astronomical event occurs every 20 years. The conjunction occurs on December 21, 2020.  You will find the two planets close together in the southwest just after sunset on this date.

Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)

After two disappointing comets, we finally have a bright comet to observe in St. Louis. On March 27, 2020, a comet now named C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was discovered in survey data from NASA’s NEOWISE space telescope. NEOWSIE was the extended mission of NASA’s WISE infrared space telescope. As NEOWISE the telescope focused on surveying the sky for Near Earth Objects (NEOs) which are asteroids and comets that come near or could cross Earth’s orbit. This is the best comet we have seen in St. Louis for several years

As of this week the estimated brightness of C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is at 4th magnitude. Unfortunately, this means the comet will become increasingly difficult to see in light polluted locations. Our best chance to see the comet will be after 9:00 p.m. using binoculars looking to the northwest. The location of (C/2020 F3 NEOWISE) will change daily so it is important to find a good map of the comet’s location. The best visual guide for finding the comet is the Big Dipper. C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) will continue to move through the constellation Ursa Major for the rest of July until it reaches Coma Berenices on July 29.

More information and detailed maps can be found here

Sky and Telescope

https://cometchasing.skyhound.com/

Visit the James S. McDonnell Planetarium for more information on what’s up!

Night Sky Update: July 24-August 01, 2020