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Look Up! Astronomer Says July Skies Are Brimming With Planets, Constellations

The starry sky of Chile during a total solar eclipse on July 2, 2019 in Paiguano, Chile. (Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)
The starry sky of Chile during a total solar eclipse on July 2, 2019 in Paiguano, Chile. (Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)

Searching for something to do this summer? Making plans can be as easy as looking up. 

The summer skies are filled with planets, stars and constellations, many visible without a telescope, astronomer Dean Regas says.

Regas, author of“100 Things to See in the Night Sky, Expanded Edition,“says he stargazes as an escape from coronavirus lockdown. 

If you want to start mapping the skies, now’s a good time to begin. The two biggest planets in our solar system — Jupiter and Saturn — areinching closer and closer as July progresses, he says. 

You might have already caught a glimpse of their rise in the southeastern sky, he says. 

To identify constellations, Regas suggests getting familiar with directions and heights. You can utilize technology such as compass apps or measure angles using your hands, he says. 

When looking for angles, use your pinky to mark one degree of sky, use three fingers for five degrees and make a fist for 10 degrees. 

He says to look for pointer stars this time of year, such as the three-starred asterism known as theSummer Triangle

“They’ll be great guides to tell you which way the east is. And they’ll be up all summer long,” he says. 

The Big Dipper is another constellation to keep your eyes peeled for. The two stars at the end of the Big Dipper will point you to the North Star and the giant red star calledArcturus— which is among the brightest stars that can be seen from Earth. 

Another summer celestial body to look for isAntares, a reddish star that is full of color and “twinkles a lot,” Regas says. 

Antares is “the star that marks the heart of the Scorpius, my favorite summertime constellation, and you can get to see that every night in July,” he says. 

Because of light pollution, residing in a city makes it harder to see the stars above. But Regas says because of the coronavirus shutdowns across the country, the skies have been a bit clearer. 

If you can plan to get out of the city, the annualPerseid meteor showerin August is a chance to witness something spectacular. Although meteor showers are “fickle beasts” that are tough to predict,Perseidis looking to be the best shower of the year, he says. 

“They peak on August 12 and 13,” he says. “That’s a time where the moon won’t get in the way and wash out a lot of the meteors.”

Regas says even though we’re looking up into infinity, stargazing can ground us. For him, it brings a sense of comfort. 

“It takes you out of the earthly realm,” he says. “And I know we’re all doing social distancing, but this is about as social distanced as you can get.”

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtSerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

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