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!
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Notes and Images From June 2010
This spring we cleared a small area that had been overgrown with Japanese Honeysuckle. The plant is an invasive exotic, and it had choked out just about every other plant. A colorful patch of native Butterfly Weed emerged in its place, and has since been attracting many species of butterflies and moths, as well as many other interesting insects.
We imaged the Juniper Hairstreak at right on June 30th. The caterpillars feed on Eastern Red Cedar, while the adults seek the nectar of various flowers including Milkweed, Wild Carrot, Butterfly Weed and White Sweet Clover. Its range includes much of the United States and parts of Northern Mexico.
At night the Butterfly Weed patch is frequented by many species of moths and other nocturnal insects, including the moth at left.
We are sometimes amazed at how quickly some habitats can recover if you simply take the time to free them of the many invasive exotic plants that attempt to creep in.
Sky Events for July 2010:
The Earth is at aphelion, its farthest distance from the Sun for the year, at 6:00am CDT on July 6th.
Venus, the bright star Regulus in Leo, Mars and Saturn form a diagonal line in the southwestern sky at dusk at the beginning of the month. The view on July first is shown below. On July 9th, Venus appears to pass by Regulus, with the planet and the star separated by a little over a degree.
Venus is bright and easy to see after sunset this month. It will become visible in the twilight sky before any other star or planet.
Look for Saturn about 40 degrees above the southwestern horizon at dusk as the month begins. The rings are tilted only slightly tilted to our line of sight. Because of the diminished brightness of the ring system, you may be able to see fainter satellites of Saturn than you normally do with a given telescope. This is a great time to view Saturn and you will be rewarded with a stunning view in just about any telescope.
Mars will be to the lower right of Saturn at dusk. The Red Planet will be about 30 degrees above the western horizon. The apparent size of Mars is now only about 5 seconds of an arc, so little telescopic detail is visible.
Towards the end of the month you may be able to see Mercury very low in the western sky at dusk, about 7 degrees above the horizon. It will appear highest above the horizon on July 26th.
Jupiter rises about 11:20pm at midmonth. The normally prominent south equatorial belt has faded in the last few months, and is now no longer visible. For those of us so used to seeing two dark equatorial belts, the planet looks a bit unusual. The great red spot continues to be visible.
Constellations: The first pair of charts below shows the sky looking east at 10:00pm CDT on July 15th. The first chart shows the sky with the constellation outlined and names depicted. Star and planet names are in green. Constellation names are in blue. The second view shows the same scene without labels. Prominent constellations this month in the eastern sky are Cygnus, the Swan, with its bright star Deneb, and Aquila, the Eagle, with its bright star Altair. Below and to the left of Altair is the constellation of Delphinus, the Dolphin, looking like it's leaping over the eastern horizon. Above Delphinus look for the arrow-like form of Sagitta, the Arrow. Between Sagitta and Cygnus lie the faint stars of Vulpecula, the Fox.
Some of the finest vistas that can be found in the summer sky come when you look south. The two charts below show the view on July 15th, at 10:00pm. Look for Antares, the red giant star that marks the heart of Scorpius, the Scorpion. The name Antares means, "rival of Mars." See if you can trace the tail of the scorpion down almost to the horizon, then back up to the two close stars that mark the stinger. To the south-southeast look for the stars of Sagittarius. The brighter stars form an asterism known as "the teapot." Above the handle of the teapot you can see the four stars that form the asterism known as "the teaspoon." In a dark sky, the clouds of the Milky Way seem to boil out of the spout of the teapot. Above and to the right of the spout of the teapot is the radio source Sagittarius A*. It marks the center of our galaxy. There an enormous black hole with the mass of around 4 million times the mass of the Sun is thought to feed on any stars unlucky enough to wander too close. Nothing unusual is seen visually at this spot, but it's fun to imagine the beast within. This is a beautiful area to scan with binoculars, with many clusters and nebulae. See how far you can trace the Milky Way across the sky (easier if you're far away from city lights). Compare your view of the Milky Way to the image of the edge-on galaxy NGC 4565 we made in April.
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 Deneb and Altair in the above scene), 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 Cygnus.
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 15th at 10:00pm CDT, you can stay up till 12:00pm CDT on July 15th and get a preview. The westward motion of the constellations is equivalent to two hours per month.
Sky & Telescope's Pocket Star Atlas is beautiful, compact star atlas. It is destined to become a classic, and is a joy to use at the telescope.
For skywatching tips, an inexpensive good guide is Secrets of Stargazing, by Becky Ramotowski.
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.
Starry Night has several software programs for learning the night sky. Visit the Starry Night web site at www.starrynight.com for details.
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 vertical pupils, a tiny spade on its rear feet and will often have some red warts, even when only a fraction of an inch long. A hand lens helps to see these features (or turn your binoculars around and use them for a magnifying glass.)
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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 The Sky Professional from Software Bisque.
All images and recordings © 2010 Leaps