Red Sky at Night

The night of July 27 will be all about the red. And while it may not be the red skies that sailors delight in, it is the type of rare red sky that should have stargazers feeling postively giddy. Two major stellar events will happen this night, though sadly, only one will be visible here in North America. For those lucky enough to be pretty much anywhere else in the world, it’s time to settle in for an awesome show.

First up, everybody’s favorite neighbor – Mars. The red planet will pass within 35.8 million miles of our humble abode and while that may not sound especially exciting, it’s the closest the red planet will be for quite some time. Mars will be one of the brightest objects in the nighttime sky, even outshining that monster of all planets, Jupiter. Its distinct orange color will make it easy to spot as well, and for those more familiar with celestial navigation, look for Capricornus, where Mars will appear to take up residence for the next couple of months. Most backyard telescopes will provide a great view of such renown features as Arabia Terra, Olympus Mons and the polar caps. (For Star Trek fans, that list also includes Utopia Planitia.) Best of all, Mars will be on full display to fans everywhere.

Mars’ appearance that night will be joined by a stunning performance by our nearest neighbor, the Moon. The Moon will be moving through Earth’s shadow (umbra) for a full 73 minutes, making it the longest lunar eclipse of the century. Full lunar eclipses produce what’s known as a blood moon, when the moon appears to take on a dark red color. This occurs because the only light the Moon receives while in the Earth’s umbra is the light that’s refracted back out by the Earth’s atmosphere – all those red rays that are subject to less scattering than those pretty blues. Sadly, this spectacular display won’t be visible from our own homestead, but for our friends in Africa, Europe and Western Asia, it should be one awesome show as they enjoy front row seats to the full event.

If you still haven’t gotten your fill of celestial fun after these two displays, direct your attention in a southeasterly direction, in that space between the Moon and Mars. The Aquarids will be hitting their peak between July 28 and July 30, and if you can escape those big city lights, you’ll enjoy one of the finest meteor showers of the summer.

Ah, those long summer nights. Slow and lazy and chock full of amazing sights. Good Vibrations indeed.

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