Skywatch Line for Wednesday, June 30, and Thursday, July 1, 2021

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Wednesday, June 30, and Thursday, July 1, written by Alan French.

The Sun now sets at 8:38 p.m. and rises at 5:21 a.m.

The Moon was full on Thursday, July 24, a week ago, and will reach last quarter at 5:11 p.m. Thursday. The Moon does not rise until after midnight, so the evening skies are nice and dark, a perfect time to enjoy the night sky. The waning gibbous Moon, 55% illuminated, rises at 12:47 a.m. Thursday morning. A waning crescent Moon, 46% illuminated, rises at 1:08 a.m. Friday morning.

The ISS is now in the early morning sky, but there are some nice passes of the X-37B in the evening. The X-37B is an Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), a reusable robotic spacecraft, built by Boeing and operated by the United States Space Force. The X-37B now in orbit was launched on May 20, 2020, and is the sixth mission for an U.S. OTV. When its mission is completed, it automatically lands, usually on a runway and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

When crossing high in the sky X-37B is brighter than the brightest stars in the Big Dipper. On Wednesday night X-37B will move up from the west northwestern horizon just before 10:20 p.m. At 10:22:50 it will be passing just behind the bowl of the Big Dipper. It will then pass above the bowl of the Little Dipper, through Draco, and down through Cygnus, the Swan, known to many as the Northern Cross, toward the eastern horizon. It will enter the Earth’s shadow and fade from view just after 10:25.

Thursday night’s pass is later so the X-37B will enter the shadow sooner and when higher in the sky. Watch for the spacecraft moving up from the west northwestern horizon at 10:59 p.m. It will be nearing Arcturus, the brightest star in Boötes, at 11:01 and will pass just below the star. Just after it passes Arcturus it will move into the Earth’s shadow and fade from view. How much farther can you follow it across the sky before it completely vanishes?

The sounds of nature often accompany time outside after dark. One of the most common is the call of the Barred Owl, the majority of which very closely sounds like “Who cooks for you?”

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