New Moon, Mercury Conjunction, And Aphelion For July 2024

The new moon of July 2024 occurred on July 5 at 6:57 p.m. Eastern Time (2257 UTC), and two days later the young moon will make a close pass to Mercury in the evening sky. Earth also reached aphelion today, its farthest point from the sun in its yearly orbit. This will make the new moon more notable since it will be partially visible in the evening sky in the northern hemisphere.

In the evening hours of July 7, the moon will pass by Mercury as it moves out of the new phase; the thin crescent will be some 3 degrees to the north of Mercury at 2:33 p.m. Eastern time. At sunset, when the moon becomes visible, it will be about 16 degrees above the horizon; Mercury will be below the moon. But the planet won't be really visible at all until about 9 p.m. (sunset on that day is at about 8:29 p.m. in New York) and by that time it will only be 8 degrees high, so from anywhere in mid-northern latitudes the conjunction will be a challenge to see -- one will need a flat, unobstructed and clear horizon.

Observing the conjunction gets easier as one moves closer to the equator. From Miami the conjunction takes place at 2:33 p.m. local time but both the moon and Mercury will be higher in the sky; the sun sets at 8:16 p.m. local time and at that point the moon is 20 degrees high and Mercury is 18 degrees above the western horizon. By about 8:30 p.m. Mercury should just become visible and it will still be about 12 degrees high, so with a clear horizon with no obstructions one should be able to catch it.

In the Western Hemisphere, the conjunction happens in the afternoon, but as one moves east the moment of conjunction moves into evening. From Madrid, Spain, the observing challenges are similar to those in New York (the two cities are at nearly the same latitude) but the conjunction occurs at 8:33 p.m. local time.

In the Southern Hemisphere, observing is slightly easier -- the days are shorter as it is the austral winter. In Sao Paolo, the sun sets at 5:22 p.m. local time, and while the conjunction happens at 3:33 p.m., still during the day, at sunset the moon will be 18 degrees high in the northwest, and Mercury will appear above and to the left of the moon. Mercury won't become visible until about 6 p.m. and it will still be about 12 and a half degrees high. In Cape Town, where the conjunction happens at 8:33 p.m. local time -- sunset is at 5:51 p.m. and the moon and Mercury set at 7:34 p.m.; about a half hour after sunset the pair is about 13 degrees high in the northwest.

In the northern hemisphere, by about 10 p.m. the Summer Triangle is high in the eastern sky; the "top" star is Vega, the brightest star in Lyra the Lyre, and it is almost at the zenith (about 70 degrees above the horizon). The other two stars in the Summer triangle are Deneb and Altair, both of which are east (to the left) of Vega; from a dark-sky site one can see the Milky Way inside the Triangle. The three stars make a rough right triangle with Altair at the southern end.

Turning left -- towards the north one will see the Big Dipper to the left (west) and slightly below Polaris, the pole star. Following the "pointers" (the two stars in the front of the bowl of the Dipper, Dubhe and Merak) to Polaris and continuing straight across one encounters Cepheus, the king, and just below Cepheus is the "W" shape of Cassiopeia, which will be low in the northeast.

In the other direction, follow the handle of the big dipper and "arc to Arcturus" the brightest star in Boötes, the herdsman, and continuing downward one hits Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. Turning south (to the left), one sees the bright red star Antares, the heart of Scorpius, and in darker sky locations looking up (north) from Scorpio one sees Ophiuchus the healer, with Sagittarius and its "teapot" shape to the left of Scorpius.

In the mid-southern latitudes one sees the stars of winter -- darkness comes earlier. By 7 p.m. the sky is dark and the Southern Cross is high above the southern horizon, about 65 degrees. To the left of the Cross (east) is Alpha Centauri, also called Rigil Kentaurus, our nearest stellar neighbor. Further east and closer to the horizon is Scorpio, though upside-down (from the point of view of a northern hemisphere observer) and very high in the sky; Antares is a full 47 degrees in altitude by 7 p.m.

In the southwest, the ship's keel, Puppis, is setting and marked by Canopus, about 20 degrees above the southwestern horizon. Canopus is the second-brightest star in the night sky after Sirius. In the same region of sky to the left (towards the south) are the Large Magellanic Cloud and Small Magellanic Clouds, two satellite galaxies of the Milky Way.

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