7 Sky Events This Week: Luna Joins Lord of the Rings and the God of War

This week the Cassini orbiter will take a special back-lit shot of Saturn, like this one taken in 2006, but this time a tiny Earth will also pose alongside the ringed-planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute


This week skywatchers get a chance to track down some of the brightest stars and planets of the season, thanks to the wanderings of Earth’s lunar neighbor.

Moon and Spica. After nightfall on Monday, July 15, gaze towards the low southwest for the first quarter moon extremely close to the bright star Spica. The pair will be less then one degree apart—equal to the width of your thumb at arm’s length.


Mars and Star Cluster. About a half hour before local dawn on Tuesday, July 16, orange-hued Mars will park itself beside Messier 35, an open star cluster.  The Red Planet will appear to be less than half a degree—about the width of the disk of the moon—from the center of the group of stars.

Lying near the foot of the Gemini twins, M 35 is 2,800 light-years away from Earth and is best seen with binoculars and telescopes. The loose cluster of hundreds of young stars stretches nearly 30 light-years across, and takes up about the same area of sky as the full moon. (Learn more about Messier 35.)


Moon Slides to Saturn. Starting at dusk on Tuesday, look towards the low southwest for a waxing gibbous moon hanging underneath the ringed planet. The cosmic duo will appear only three degrees apart. Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system after Jupiter, and is about 95 times the mass of the Earth. (Related: “Eye-Catching Triple Planet Huddle.”)


This week the moon appears to be in the clutches of the cosmic scorpion's claws, near it's brightest star Antares. Credit: Starry Night  Software/A.Fazekas
This week the moon appears to be in the clutches of the cosmic scorpion’s claws, near its brightest star Antares. Credit: Starry Night Software/A.Fazekas

Moon visits Anti-Mars. Look towards the low southwest on Thursday, July 18 near midnight for the bright orange star Antares to the lower left of the waxing moon. The red giant, 600 light-years away from Earth, will appear six degrees from our moon—a little more than the width of your fist at arm’s length.

Antares is the brightest member of the constellation Scorpius and marks the mythical arachnid’s ‘heart’. Considered one of the reddest of the brighter stars of the night sky, Antares’ name means anti-Mars’—Ares being the Greek word for Mars, the god of war. For northern observers, the constellation always hugs the southern horizon, and for southern hemisphere skywatchers, Scorpius dominates the overhead night sky. (Learn more about Antares.)


 Earth-Saturn Portrait.  On Friday, July 19, between 5:27 and 5:42 p.m. EDT look up and smile! The Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn will turn its cameras towards the sun so it can capture a unique family portrait of the Earth alongside Saturn and its majestic rings.

This will be the first time in history Earthlings know in advance that their picture is being taken from a billion miles away. Find out more information on the event’s official site.


At dawn this week Mars and Jupiter will have a close encounter in the very low eastern horizon at the foot of the Gemini constellation.  Credit: Starry Night Software/A.Fazekas
At dawn this week Mars and Jupiter will have a close encounter in the very low eastern horizon at the foot of the Gemini constellation. Credit: Starry Night Software/A.Fazekas

Mars meets Jupiter.  Before local dawn on Sunday, June 21 the red planet will have dropped below M35 star cluster and pay an extremely close visit to the largest world in the solar system. Orange-hued Mars will appear less than one degree from Jupiter low in the east.   The two planets will glide past each other in the Gemini constellation over the course of the next few days as Jupiter rises higher each morning while Mars sinks close to the sun.   For the best views, observers will need to have a clear line of sight towards the horizon using binoculars.


Venus pairs with Regulus. As dusk sets in on Sunday, July 21, look towards the very low western horizon for a beautiful pairing of two bright white, star-like objects. Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo, will set fast while brighter Venus snuggles up to it—only one degree away.

The best views will be with binoculars from southern latitudes, where the pair will appear higher in the sky and farther away from the sunset glow.


Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.


Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Larry Sessions

    Thanks for your links back to EarthSky.


    Can you tell me why the Sun is setting in the Northwestern sky. No one is speaking on this. The Sun is now shinning on the North side of my house.


    Last summer, I saw two sunsets in the sky at once. One was in the East and one was in the West at around 7:00 p.m. Then, a couple of weeks ago, as the Sun was setting in the Northwestern sky, I saw an image the size of a Sun, behind some clouds. It’s color was orange, and it was in the Northern sky. Can you explain?

  • karra Phani Sankar

    @ Mr.Braison..This may be on account of change of equinox. I have interest in astonomy but noy an expert.

  • Audrey-Rose


    “Most people know that the Sun “rises in the east and sets in the west”. However, most people don’t realize that is a generalization. Actually, the Sun only rises due east and sets due west on 2 days of the year — the spring and fall equinoxes! On other days, the Sun rises either north or south of “due east” and sets north or south of “due west.”
    Each day the rising and setting points change slightly. At the summer solstice, the Sun rises as far to the northeast as it ever does, and sets as far to the northwest. Every day after that, the Sun rises a tiny bit further south.”

    Found on http://solar-center.stanford.edu/AO/sunrise.html

  • Zan

    @S.BRAISON. Hard to say for sure without a picture of what you saw, but it was probably an optical illusion, most likely a “sundog” or a “false sunset”, caused by the atmosphere bending the light from the sun, combined with a reflection of the light off of ice crystals in the upper atmosphere.
    What you saw as a sunset to the east may have been Anticrepuscular rays (http://www.atoptics.co.uk/atoptics/anti1.htm)
    There are many optical illusions caused by Earth’s atmosphere, including why the sun and moon look larger on the horizon and why stars twinkle. In fact, when you see the sun setting the horizon, at the moment you first see the bottom of the sun touch the horizon, it is actually already physically completely below the horizon. More discussion on that topic can be found here: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/11/20/sunsets-are-quite-interesting/#.Uelq121WqAJ

    As for why the sun appears to be setting North of true West now, and will appear set South of true West in the winter, that’s due to the way Earth’s axis is tilted about 22.5 degrees, which is why we have more daylight in the summer, and why we have seasons.

  • Brian R.


    The Sun is setting more to the North because it is summer. The Earth’s tilt facing the Sun places the Sun more northren during the summer for the northren hemisphere. If you live in the southren hemisphere than during the summer the Sun would set more to the south.

  • TJ

    Saw a beautiful full moon (Jul 21st) as I was finishing my twilight round at Torrey Pines North.

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