Celebration of Space - July 7, 2024

The Milky Way stretches over the Frosty Drew Observatory. Credit: Bob Mattera captured this image in 2022.

The Milky Way stretches over the Frosty Drew Observatory. Credit: Bob Mattera captured this image in 2022.

Being that the new Moon occurs tonight, July 5, 2024 at 6:59 pm ET, we are in store for some of the best views of the Milky Way at Frosty Drew. Ninigret Park, which is home to the Frosty Drew campus, is the darkest spot in Southern New England, and one of the most accessible spots in New England to see the Milky Way. Even though our best viewing period is April and May, you have to be out in the early morning hours before predawn. During July the view is nearly as spectacular, but it occurs after twilight wanes, making the view much easier to catch for those who actually sleep at night. On the night of the new Moon, the Moon rises and sets with the Sun, leaving the sky super dark all night long. Once the new Moon passes, we enter the waxing crescent intermediate phases which brings the thin crescent to the twilight sky. Right now the Milky Way becomes quite visible after 10:30 pm, which means that the crescent Moon should not be a problem with catching a view, for the next several days.

Speaking of the Milky Way, tomorrow night, Saturday, July 6, 2024 is our Celebrate the Milky Way event. This is a night themed on viewing only the Milky Way at Frosty Drew. On these nights we use the most minimal amount of lighting possible, and direct all of our telescopes towards the Milky Way galactic plane. Unfortunately, the overcast and rainy conditions will persist through the weekend. So we have to, sadly, cancel the event. Though views of the Milky Way can still be had on nights without the Moon and without clouds – apparently a big ask for Southern New England.

This passed Wednesday, July 3, 2024 kicked off the Dog Days of Summer, which will continue until August 11th. The dog days are generally considered the hottest days of the summer season in the Northern Hemisphere. Though the name doesn’t come from the idea of just the heat, but instead is derived from the position of the Sun in regards to the bright star Sirius – the dog star.

Sirius is found in the constellation Canes Major (one of Orion’s hunting dogs). The bright star is quite close to us and resides at a distance of 8.5 light years. It is the brightest star in Earth’s nighttime sky, and is visible from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Additionally, Sirius is also one of the few stars that are visible to the unaided eye during the daytime. Sirius is a binary star, meaning that the system is comprised of two stars that orbit a center point of gravity, called a barycenter. Sirius’ companion star died some time ago, and what remains is the dead core of the star, which is a white dwarf. This makes Sirius B the closest white dwarf to the Solar System.

The dog days of summer start 20 days before Sirius and Sun achieve conjunction, and ends 20 days after conjunction. It may have been once believed that Sirius and the Sun being in the sky together was possibly the reason it was so hot during the Northern Hemisphere summer, which is obviously nonsense. Regardless, the name still sticks and the dog days of summer are centered on Sirius – the dog star being in conjunction with the Sun. Regardless of how you feel about the dog days, be sure to celebrate the hottest days of summer in whatever way works best for you.

Speaking of hot summer days, did you know that Earth is at aphelion today, July 5, 2024? Well it was at 1:06 am ET this morning, and what that means is that Earth is at its furthest point from the Sun in our 365.25 day orbit. This may sound a bit strange considering that we just welcomed the dog days of summer. Contrary to what sky watchers of antiquity believed, the Northern Hemisphere summer heat is not a product of our proximity to the Sun, but instead is a product of our axial tilt. On the Summer Solstice, Earth orbits into a position where the Northern Hemisphere is at maximum tilt, 23.4° towards the Sun. This puts the Northern Hemisphere into significantly more sunlight than the rest of the year. This increases the amount of light that we absorb and convert into infrared light. The result is the hot and sticky dog days of summer. Even though it is a cloud bomb today, step outside and welcome Earth’s aphelion, and feel the heat of our furthest point from the Sun.

Starting on Monday, July 8, 2024, the International Space Station (ISS) orbits back into a position where visible passes occur during the evening hours, which make it much easier to spot while hanging out with family and friends. The ISS orbits Earth inclined 51° to the equator. To see the ISS the station needs to be in direct sunlight while the ground-based observer is in nighttime. All of these dynamics make for a very small percentage of passes that are actually visible on the ground, and timings of visibility cycles from morning to evening to not at all. Since we are still very close to the Summer Solstice, all nighttime passes of the ISS will be visible this coming week, which occur every 90 minutes. Here are some notable ISS passes for the coming week:

Mon, Jul 8 at 9:37 pm, starting in the SSW, rising to 36°, heading towards the ENE
Tue, Jul 9 at 8:49 pm, starting in the S, rising to 21°, heading towards the E
Wed, Jul 10 at 9:36 pm, staring in the WSW, rising to 78°, heading towards the NE ← Awesome pass!
Thu, Jul 11 at 8:48 pm, starting in the SW, rising to 60°, heading towards the ENE ← Awesome pass!

The passes listed here are the easiest to see based on timings. Though each night will have several passes from dusk to dawn. For a list of all daily visible passes of the ISS and other bright satellites, visit our satellite tracker daily. Now get out there and see humanity’s only continuously inhabited space based residence zooming by.

Scott MacNeill
Scott MacNeill
Entry Date:
Jul 5, 2024
Published Under:
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