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The Buzz

Before the Fireworks, Catch a Glimpse of Mercury in the Morning Sky




(Photo courtesy of Michael Fagan)

A dazzling array of fireworks is sure to dominate the evening sky on the Fourth of July, but early in the day, even before the sun fully rises, a different sky spectacle will be visible.

The morning of July 4 is when Mercury will be at its greatest western elongation, which means the innermost planet in our solar system will be visible in the early morning sky, just before the sun rises, according to Sea and Sky.

Because Mercury is closer to the sun than the other planets, it usually is within the glare of the sun and not visible in the sky, according to NASA. However, six or seven times a year, when Mercury's orbit takes it to its farthest points east and west of the sun, we can see it either in the early morning or evening sky.

During western elongations, Mercury is visible before the sun rises for the day, while eastern elongations allow the planet to be seen just after sunset. The remaining elongations this year will be on September 14, when Mercury will be at its farther point east of the sun, and October 25, when it will be at its farthest point west. 

After the smoke clears from the Fourth of July fireworks, make sure to keep your eyes to the skies to possibly catch a glimpse of a shooting star. Three meteor showers are active in July, although the most well-known of these — the Perseid meteor shower — won't be at its peak until the night of August 11 into August 12, according to the American Meteor Society. The other active showers, the southern delta Aquariids and the alpha Capricornids, will both peak the night of July 28 into the morning of July 29.

The southern delta Aquariids, which run from July 12 to August 23, are best viewed from the southern tropics and are not considered a major meteor shower in our area, the meteor society reports. However, the alpha Capricornids can be seen equally well both north and south of the equator. The alpha Capricornids does not usually produce a lot of meteors, only about a five an hour, but it is known for producing fireballs, according to the meteor society. 

The Perseids meteor shower runs from July 17 to August 26. It is the most popular of the annual meteor showers in the United States because it produces a high number of meteors, usually 50 to 75 per hour during its most active period in August.

The full moon for July will be on July 23. It will reach its fullest point at 9:37 p.m. and will appear full in the night sky that night, according to NASA.

July's moon is called the buck moon because the antlers of bucks are typically growing well at this time of year, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. Other nicknames for it include the thunder moon, because thunderstorms are typically prevalent in July.

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