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Galaxy Club

Tonight's Sky

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Click here for Dave's preview of sky events in 2017. 

For: July 17-23

Those rising before the Sun should check out the eastern sky Thursday morning. You’ll find Venus just left of a thin crescent Moon. The pair rise at about 3am so set the alarm for 4 or 4:30. The rest of the action is on Saturday. At 10am I’ll be at the Westville Library to talk about the eclipse and show how to build an inexpensive pinhole viewer. It is also the weekend of the New Moon. Join us Saturday night at the Middle Fork Forest Preserve for a free program at 8pm and then observing under the darkest skies the county. The Middle Fork has replaced many of their lighting fixtures so that lights are pointing down and it’s wonderful!

For: July 24-30

It’s a busy week, especially if you’re the Moon. Tonight, see if you can find a very thin crescent Moon nearly due west. Look close to the horizon right after sunset. It’ll be easier to see tomorrow night plus you can try to find Mercury a bit below and right of the Moon. Friday, the Moon is just above Jupiter. The CU Astronomical Society will be looking at that Moon at Saturday’s free open house, southwest of Champaign ( for directions). If you want more on the Moon and the solar system, UI astronomer Joaquin Vieira will give a talk on “Solar System 101” at the Urbana Free Library Tuesday night at 7pm.

For: July 31- August 6

My goodness, August already? Tuesday night I’ll be at the Urbana Free Library to do an eclipse talk at 6:30pm. Join us! The planetarium goes back to our regular Friday/Saturday night public schedule this weekend. We’ll talk about the eclipse in “Summer Prairie Skies,” look at things that can threaten the Earth in “Violent Universe,” the kids learn about star colors in “Little Star that Could,” and how about some Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon?” You can find a full schedule online. Keep your eyes skyward when you can as early August is a good time to see meteors. The Perseid shower reaches maximum at the end of next week.

For: August 7-13

At Thursday evening’s CU Astronomical Society meeting, Mike Conron will go over his “eclipse checklist” to get us ready for the August 21 event (7pm, Planetarium). The public is invited. The club also has eclipse glasses for sale. Use binoculars to check out Jupiter in the southwest Thursday night as the planet will appear close to the distant star Theta Virginis. Friday evening I’ll be at the Arthur Public Library for an eclipse workshop (7pm). Look for Perseid meteors in the sky this weekend. A waning gibbous Moon will brighten the peak hours after midnight, but you’ll still see a few “shooting stars” in the sky if it is clear and you are patient.

For: August 14-20

Tonight the Champaign Public Library welcomes NASA astronaut Michael Foreman for a 7pm talk. Of course the big event is coming next Monday. The long-awaited total solar eclipse occurs the afternoon of August 21. Are you prepared? If you’re heading south, my advice is to leave early as traffic could be a concern. If you’re sticking around, do you have eye protection? The supply of eclipse glasses is drying up quickly. You can build a pinhole projector or project an image of the Sun with a telescope or binoculars. See our web site for construction plans and other details. Or visit Friday night’s “Prairie Skies” show at the planetarium (7pm) and I’ll show you some examples.

For: August 21-27

Today is the day! Finally! The last couple of years of planning and workshops have led to this! Today’s total solar eclipse begins with the partial phase at 11:53am. The Moon will block 93% of the Sun at 1:20pm and the event is over by about 2:45pm. Hopefully local schools will allow their kids outside to see this rare event! The Champaign and Urbana libraries are hosting eclipse parties. There are no activities at the planetarium today. Do not look at the Sun without adequate eye protection – sunglasses are NOT good eye protection!! Use specially made eclipse glasses or build a pinhole projector. Or you can watch online at CUAS observatory open house this Saturday night, weather permitting (

For: August 28 – September 3

So the eclipse is over and maybe you’ve caught the “astronomy bug.” I caught it in fifth grade! There is more to see in the sky. Start off with Tuesday’s first quarter Moon. With the sunlight coming in from the side, lunar mountains cast shadows and you can see “into” craters. Tuesday and Wednesday night the Moon is near Saturn in the south. Even a small telescope should easily show the ring system. Near straight up after sunset, the summer triangle looks down upon us, with the star Vega the brightest of the three. The great square of Pegasus rises nearly due east. I don’t know about flying horses; squares and triangles are more my speed!

See Dave Leake's "Prairie Skies" column in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette each Monday morning.