July highlights: Earth’s orbit around the sun isn’t perfectly circular. It’s oval in shape, so that at some date we are closest to the sun and six months later we are farthest from the sun. On Friday, we will be at aphelion, the farthest point from the sun. The sun’s center will be 94,508,365 miles from the center of Earth. Perihelion, when we are closest to the sun, occurred back on January 3, when the Earth and the sun were 91,402,705 miles apart.
I know, it’s counterintuitive that we’d be closer to the sun when it’s cold and farthest from the sun when it’s hot. But it’s just the reverse for the southern hemisphere.
A partial solar eclipse occurs on the July 12 with an associated total lunar eclipse following on the July 27. To see either, you’ll need to travel to the Southern hemisphere. We’ll get none of either in Oklahoma.
Planet visibility report: For the first three weeks of July, both Venus and Mercury grace the western horizon after sunset. Mercury is never very far from the sun, so your best bet to see it is from a location with an unobstructed view of the horizon. Venus is higher and brighter and you should have no trouble spotting it. Jupiter and Saturn are also up at sunset, but much farther west. Mars rises around 11 p.m. early in the month and hits the eastern horizon around 9 p.m. at month’s end. At chart time, 10 p.m. on July 15, four of the five visible planets are up: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. New moon occurs on the July 12 with the partial solar eclipse and full moon comes on the July 27 with the lunar eclipse.
Wayne Harris-Wyrick is an Oklahoma astronomer and former director of the Kirkpatrick Planetarium at Science Museum Oklahoma. Questions or comments may be emailed to email@example.com.