The purpose of this feature is to give scout leaders, educators and naturalists an idea of some of the natural events coming up each month. We will try to cover a variety of natural events ranging from sky events to calling periods of amphibians, bird and mammal watching tips, prominent wildflowers and anything else that comes to mind. We will also note prominent constellations appearing over the eastern horizon at mid-evening each month for our area for those who would like to learn the constellations. If you have suggestions for other types of natural information you would like to see added to this calendar, let us know!
Note: You can click on the hyperlinks to learn more about some of the featured items. To return to the Calendar, hit the "back" button on your browser, NOT the "back" button on the web page.
We seem to have a red theme this month, although it wasn't intentional. We write about the red planet (Mars), A toad that often has red warts, and red insects!
Evening Sky: Look for Jupiter in the western sky after sunset. It sets about 2 hours after the sun at the first of the month but only about 45 minutes after sunset by month’s end. Be sure and try to spot Jupiter and Mercury after sunset on July 25th, when the two are separated by less than 1/2 a degree. Both planets will be quite close to the horizon, so you need a flat western horizon and a clear sky to observe them. Try looking between 8:15pm CDT and 8:45pm CDT.
Morning Sky: You can still see the planet Venus low in the eastern sky early in the month. By month’s end it is lost in morning twilight. Mars is bright and beautiful in the morning sky, glowing like a hot coal. If you have a telescope, see if you can spot the south polar cap and the dusky markings on its surface. To see the surface detail, you must be patient and wait for moments when the atmosphere is steady. Although we will be closer to Mars in August than any time in recorded history, it is still a very small planet, and difficult to observe. Mars rises about 10:45pm at mid-month, but for telescopic views try getting up around 3:00am and looking to the southeast. Mars is brighter than anything else in the morning sky and is hard to miss. Below is a sketch of Mars as it appeared in our 6” f/8 reflecting telescope at 254X on June 23, 2003.
The Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on the morning of July 28th. If you get up around 2:00am and look southeast you may see some members of this shower, which typically produces around 5 to 10 meteors per hour. The bright planet Mars will be close to the radiant (the point from which the meteors seem to radiate), which could provide a memorable view.
All times noted in the Sky Events are for Franklin, Tennessee and are Central Daylight Time. These times should be pretty close anywhere in the mid-state area.
Constellations: The views below show the sky looking east at 9:30pm CDT on July 20th. The first view shows the sky with the constellation outlined and names depicted. Star and planet names are in yellow. Constellation names are in green. The second view shows the same scene without labels. Looking to the east, see if you can spot the constellations of Cygnus, the Swan, Lyra, the Lyre and Aquila, the Eagle. The bright stars Deneb, Altair and Vega form the "Summer Triangle." If you locate them first, you will have an easier time finding the constellations around them. Below and to the left of Altair is the constellation of Delphinus, the Dolphin, looking like it's leaping over the faint stars of Equuleus, the Foal. Above Delphinus look for the arrow-like form of Sagitta, the Arrow. Between Sagitta and Cygnus lie the faint stars of Vulpecula, the Fox. Looking northeast, see if you can pick out Cepheus, the King. Mu Cephei, nicknamed the “Garnet Star” by William Herschel, is a beautiful deep red star in binoculars or a small telescope. Below and to the right of Cepheus look for the faint stars that make up Lacerta, the Lizard. Below and to the left of Cepheus, look for Cassiopeia. Looking to the southeast, the brightest stars of Sagittarius, the Archer, form a grouping nicknamed, "The Teapot." Look for them above the southeast horizon. On very clear summer nights, the bright portions of the Milky Way above Sagittarius look like steam rising from the spout of the teapot. If you look just to the right of the spout of the teapot, you will be looking in the direction of the center of our galaxy. The little grouping of stars to the left of Sagittarius is nicknamed, "The Teaspoon." Below The Teapot, look for Corona Australis, the Southern Crown. All of the constellation Scorpius, the Scorpion, with its bright star Antares, should now be above the horizon in the southeast. Also in the southeast and above Sagittarius, look for the faint stars of Scutum.
On Learning the Constellations: We advise learning a few constellations each month, and then following them through the seasons. Once you associate a particular constellation coming over the eastern horizon at a certain time of year, you may start thinking about it like an old friend, looking forward to its arrival each season. The stars in the evening scene above, for instance, will always be in the same place relative to the horizon at the same time and date each July. Of course, the planets do move slowly through the constellations, but with practice you will learn to identify them from their appearance. In particular, learn the brightest stars (like Altair and Vega in the above scene looking east), for they will guide you to the fainter stars. Once you can locate the more prominent constellations, you can "branch out" to other constellations around them. It may take you a little while to get a sense of scale, to translate what you see on the computer screen or what you see on the page of a book to what you see in the sky. Look for patterns, like the stars that make up the constellation Lyra.
The earth's rotation causes the constellations to appear to move across the sky just as the sun and the moon appear to do. If you go outside earlier than the time shown on the charts, the constellations will be lower to the eastern horizon. If you observe later, they will have climbed higher.
As each season progresses, the earth's motion around the sun causes the constellations to appear a little farther towards the west each night for any given time of night. If you want to see where the constellations in the above figures will be on August 20th at 9:30pm CDT, you can stay up till 11:30pm CDT on July 20th and get a preview. The westward motion of the constellations is equivalent to two hours per month.
A good book to learn the constellations is H. A. Rey's classic, The Stars, A New Way to See Them. Rey's depictions of the constellations and witty commentary are terrific.
A good general reference book on astronomy is the Peterson Field Guide, A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, by Pasachoff. The book retails for around $14.00.
A good beginners software program for learning the night sky is the Starry Night Beginner program. Visit the Starry Night web site at www.starrynight.com The program retails for around $30.00 and contains a wealth of information.
July’s frogs and toads are much like June’s. Listen for Cope's Gray Treefrogs, Gray Treefrogs, Bird-Voiced Treefrogs, Green Treefrogs and Barking Treefrogs. Northern Cricket Frogs and Southern Cricket Frogs call a lot during July, and the calls of Bullfrogs and Green Frogs fill the night air. After heavy rains listen for the high, insect-like call of the Eastern Narrowmouth Toad and the strange-sounding Eastern Spadefoot. Be sure to look closely at young toads you encounter. Sometimes we find young Eastern Spadefoots foraging during the day. A young Eastern Spadefoot will have
By the end of June and the beginning of July, many of the players in the summer insect orchestras have started performing. Cicadas are calling now during the day and at dusk, and True Katydids evoke memories of past summer evenings with their familiar song. Coneheads play their far-ranging, monotone rasps, the pitch Doppler-shifting downward as you drive by them in the dark, and fireflies mirror the stars overhead with their gentle light. By day, some of the more colorful insects can be found in patches of milkweed. Monarch butterflies lay their tiny cream-colored eggs on the milkweed leaves and you can usually find a Monarch caterpillar munching on the foliage. If you’re lucky, you might even find the beautiful, jewel-like chrysalis of the Monarch nearby. To see a Monarch caterpillar form it's chrysalis, click here. Scarlet and Green Leafhoppers, Large Milkweed Bugs and Red Milkweed Beetles all add their brilliant warning colors to the scene.
Don’t be a conehead when it comes to insect songs! We recommend:
Songs of Crickets and Katydids of the Mid-Atlantic States, by Rannels, Hershberger and Dillon
(Remember to use the back button on your browser, NOT the back button on the web page!)
Nature Notes Archives: Nature Notes was a page we published in 2001 and 2002 containing our observations about everything from the northern lights display of November 2001 to frog and salamander egg masses.
Night scenes prepared with Starry Night Pro software
All photographs Ó2003 LEAPS