As we all prepare for the summer months, the sky above us will be equally as busy. From dark matter missions to meteor showers, here are some of July’s most anticipated astronomical phenomena and rocket launches.
July 1 is the launch date for the Euclid mission. Created by the European Space Agency, the Euclid spacecraft will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This spacecraft is designed to help expand our knowledge of many cosmic mysteries, including the changing expansion of our Universe, our understanding of gravity, and the nature of dark matter. It will produce a three-dimensional map of galaxies as far as 10 billion light-years away, eventually covering more than a third of our sky. The mission is currently designed to run for six years with Euclid orbiting at the Sun-Earth Lagrange point 2, a point also being orbited by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and ESA’s Gaia space observatory.
The full moon of July, the Buck Moon, will arrive on July 3. Reaching peak illumination at 7:39 AM (Eastern Time), the Buck Moon is one of four supermoons that will occur in 2023. Taking place when a new or full moon is within 90% of its closest distance to Earth, supermoons are bigger and brighter than regular moons. However, the difference in size between the Buck Moon and a regular full moon will only be about 7% larger, a growth that can be unnoticeable to the human eye. The name of the Buck Moon was inspired by male deer, or bucks, whose antlers begin their most dramatic regrowth at this time of year. This moon has also been called the Salmon Moon, the Berry Moon, the Thunder Moon, the Raspberry Moon, and the Halfway Summer Moon.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will launch its first crewed test flight to the International Space Station on July 21. Lifting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the mission will be crewed by two members: Commander Butch Wilmore, NASA astronaut and pilot who has spent 178 days in space with two completed spacewalks; and Pilot Sunita “Suni” Williams, United States Navy officer and American astronaut who previously hold the record for most spacewalks completed by a woman (7) and total spacewalk time by a woman (50 hours, 40 minutes). A backup pilot is also being trained for the mission- Joint Operations Commander Mike Fincke, NASA astronaut who previously held the American record for most hours spent in space with just under 382 days logged.
July is the most active month of the year for the Delta Aquariids meteor shower. There will be a slow but consistent rate of 25 meteors per hour between July 12 to August 23, and the shower will be most active on July 30. This particular shower is primarily visible in the Southern Hemisphere, but there are a few ways to improve your chances at spotting some in late July from the Northern Hemisphere. Dark regions with little intrusive light will greatly increase the visibility of any meteors above. Telescopes and binoculars are too narrow to catch many showers, making your naked eye the best tool for viewing. The comet of origin for the Delta Aquariids shower is still being debated, but the most likely source appears to be Comet 96P/Machholz, a comet discovered in 1986 with an approximate diameter of four miles.
The events taking place in July give us all a chance to experience unique phenomena and even watch astronomical history being made.
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