By Mario Carr
2015 will be remembered as the year of Pluto because on July 14 at 7:49 a.m. EST, New Horizons will be the first space probe to visit and take pictures of the dwarf planet and its companion Charon.
The probe will be 7,800 miles above Pluto’s icy rocky surface after travelling three billion miles. It will take a few days before we see the first pictures and several months until we receive everything. What we’ll see is really anyone’s guess, but it’s guaranteed to be a big surprise. Pluto exists in the far reaches of the solar system known as the Kuiper belt.
The space probe was launched nine years ago in 2006. NASA purposely hired young people to make sure they would still be around by the time the mission ended. The New Horizons space probe is carrying the names of more than 400,000 people. You can search NASA’s website at http://www.nasa.gov to find out if your name is onboard.
Here are July stargazer events. Most are listed in the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers calendar.
Mercury is best seen in the morning sky from July 1-16. Venus is at its maximum brightness on July 9 in the western evening sky. Jupiter is low in the north western evening twilight sky. Saturn is well placed in the evening sky. Uranus rises around midnight and Neptune rises late evening.
July 1 – Jupiter and Venus are extremely close in the western evening sky. This would make a great photo opportunity. There will also be a Full Moon.
July 6 – Pluto is at opposition at its closest point to the Earth. If you have a large telescope you might see it close to the summer teapot. The Earth is also at its furthest point away from the Sun at 152 million km.
July 12 – The crescent Moon is close to Aldebaran and the Hyades in the dawn sky.
July 16 – The crescent Moon will be near Venus and Jupiter low in the evening sky.
July 25 – The Moon is close to Saturn in the evening sky.
July 31 – The second Full Moon this month is called the Blue Moon.
For more information, see the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers website at www.amateurastronomy.org or call (905) 627-4323. The club offers a basic astronomy course for members.
Mario Carr is the club’s director of publicity and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.