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WHAT'S UP: Summertime is all about the sunshine

Anonymous • Jul 21, 2015 at 10:58 AM

Michigan has it all in the summer. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Great Lakes State has 3,000 miles of freshwater shoreline, more than any other state. And we have more sunshine in the summer than Florida, the Sunshine State.

Consider this: on Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., the sun will rise at 6:28 a.m. and set at 8:26 p.m., giving Floridians about an hour and a half less face time with the sun than we have on the same day.

In fact, the days are longer in Michigan than in Florida from March 21, the beginning of spring, to Sept. 21, the beginning of autumn.

Over the course of an entire year, Florida and Michigan — indeed, all places on Earth — have exactly the same amount of sun-above-the-horizon time: six months.

Of course, to be fair, Florida and all places closer to the equator have way more daylight during the winter than we do.

So play hard this summer.

If you’re into sky watching like me, all the solar system action is in the morning this season.

Look for the planets Venus, Mars and Jupiter in the pre-sunrise sky, stretching in a line in that order upward and Southward from the East point on the horizon.

Over the coming weeks, Venus will slip below the horizon at dawn but Mars and Jupiter will rise higher and higher, making them easy targets for the unaided eye, a small telescope or even a pair of binoculars held steadily.

Saturn is the only planet to grace our evening sky this summer. Presently, Saturn is situated in a fairly unusual place: right next to a bright star.

If you look high in the sky to the South-Southwest when it gets dark, which isn’t until almost 10:30 p.m. now, you will notice the two star-like points of light apparently uncomfortably close. Saturn is the brighter of the two.

And the two objects are not close at all. The bright star is called Porrima, in the constellation Virgo, and it is 38.5 light years away; Saturn is just 9.3 astronomical units (one astronomical unit is the average distance between the Earth and sun), or about 80 light minutes away.

In the coming weeks, Saturn will set earlier and earlier and will no longer be visible by autumn.

This summer there will be the usual three full moons, on July 15, Aug. 13 and Sept. 12, but only two new moons on July 1 and Aug. 29.  New-moon nights are the best for stargazing.

Unfortunately, this summer the annual Perseid meteor shower on Aug. 12-13 occurs when the moon is full, which is less than ideal for catching shooting stars.

But with all this sunshine, who needs darks skies and shooting stars?  There will be plenty of darkness for that this winter.

Summer is all about the sunshine.

Doug Furton is a member of the physics faculty at GVSU.  Send questions and suggestions to dgf@inbox.com.  An archive of some of his “What’s up” columns is available online at http://gegenschein.wordpress.com/.

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