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Milky Way Season in Zion & More!

Happy Milky Way season stargazers! Our home galaxy, and part of our cosmic address, is home

to 100s of billions of stars, our sun included. Most galaxies, including our own barred spiral, are

shaped like pancakes or flattened discs. When we look out into space the plane of our pancake,

we see a high concentration of stars. The combination of an abundance of stars and dust

reflecting starlight in our galactic plane appears as a milky, cloudy band in the night sky.


This Milky Way band is only visible under dark skies with little sky glow from light pollution. Over

80% of human beings never get to experience this beautiful view of our home. If you are lucky

enough to venture towards darker areas this summer, you can catch the band of our galaxy for

the next couple months. Its path travels through the summer triangle and appears most defined

when peering towards the center of the Milky Way in the constellation Sagittarius. This zodiac

constellation is easily identified by the asterism, or collection of stars, resembling a teapot.


Looking Southeast on August 15th, Image credit: Stellarium


Mercury, Venus, and Mars are visible in July’s western sky. Look for them closest to the horizon

shortly after sunset. Each night Venus and Mercury travel closer to the sun, and by the end of

this month, both will be lost in its glare. This will end Venus’ months-long stint as our evening

‘star,’ and it will soon transition to dominating our morning eastern skies.


July also marks the return of Saturn in our evening skies. Rising before 11 pm, look for the god

of wealth and time in the east, the brightest object in Aquarius, the water bearer. On August 1st,

he can be seen very close to the star Sigma Aquarii, the left thigh of Aquarius.



Looking southeast (left) and west (right) shortly after sunset on August 1st, Image Credit: Stellarium


These mid-summer months are fantastic for meteor observing. The Southern delta Aquariids

and alpha Capricornids are active until the middle of August. The highlight of meteor shower

season, the Perseids, begins mid-July and persists through September. Peaking on August 15th

under a moonless sky, this will be the best chance to catch a ‘shooting star’ this summer.


The name ‘shooting star’ is a misnomer, as what we see are not stars flying across the sky.

Instead, the streak of fire we observe is caused by small pieces of debris (rock, dust). Entering

Earth’s atmosphere and coming into contact with the molecules of gas in our air, the friction

causes this debris to burn up and slash across the night sky.


Astronomical Dates and Times:


July

Full Moon: July 3 (Full Buck Moon)

Last Quarter: July 10

New Moon: July 17

First Quarter: July 25


August

Full Moon: August 1 (Full Sturgeon Moon)

Last Quarter: August 8

New Moon: August 16

First Quarter: August 24

Full Moon: August 31 (Full Blue Moon


Virgin, UT Mountain Daylight Time

Astro Twilight End August 1: 10:22 PM

Astro Twilight End August 15: 10:01 PM

Astro Twilight End August 31: 9:34 PM


7/30 - Southern Delta Aquariid meteor shower peaks at 25 meteors per hour

7/30 - Alpha Capricorinds meteor shower peaks at five meteors per hour

8/12 - Perseids meteor shower peaks at 100 meteors per hour

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