Contact: Rebecca Johnson
Editor, StarDate magazine
512-475-6763; [email protected]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 8, 2010
An array of five of the sky’s leading lights gather together over the western horizon on mid-July nights, according to the editors of StarDate magazine.
Venus, the dazzling “evening star,” is sneaking past Regulus, the brightest star of Leo, the lion. Venus is well to the lower right of Regulus as July opens, but stands side by side with the bright star on the 8th. They are closest together on the 9th, separated by about one degree — less than the width of a finger held at arm’s length.
The slim crescent Moon joins this bright pair on July 14, making an equilateral triangle with the Moon at left, Venus on top, and Regulus on the right. Orangey Mars and yellow-gold Saturn hang a little higher to the group’s upper left.
This array of five bright objects provides a good look at the ecliptic, the path that the Sun follows across the sky. The planets always follow along the ecliptic, too, within a few degrees.
In ancient times, the ecliptic held special significance. The first major constellation ever dawn were those of the zodiac, the 12 constellations that lie along the ecliptic. Skywatchers imbued these constellations and their major stars with special properties. Today we know that these stars have no more impact on daily life than any others — that is, none at all.
Published bi-monthly by The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory, StarDate magazine  provides readers with skywatching tips, skymaps, beautiful astronomical photos, astronomy news and features, and a 32-page Sky Almanac each January.
Established in 1932, The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory  near Fort Davis, Texas, hosts multiple telescopes undertaking a wide range of astronomical research under the darkest night skies of any professional observatory in the continental United States. McDonald is home to the consortium-run Hobby-Eberly Telescope, one of the world's largest, which will soon be upgraded to begin the HET Dark Energy Experiment . An internationally known leader in astronomy education and outreach, McDonald Observatory is also pioneering the next generation of astronomical research as a founding partner of theGiant Magellan Telescope .
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