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Skywatch: What’s happening in the heavens in July

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks by the footpad of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module in July 1969. (NASA/AP)

Bright, large evening planets and a low, morning beacon help celebrate the golden anniversary of Apollo 11 and its leap into history.

If you’re on an East Coast beach, wake early to watch the rising sun in July’s early days, but tickle your toes in the sand before dawn to catch the effervescent Venus low in the east-northeastern horizon. This stunning planet is a -3.9-magnitude (very bright) object, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. On Monday morning (July 1), the elderly crescent moon hangs out to Venus’s right. Toward the middle of July, Venus starts a vacation in the sun’s glare until September.

When the sun sets in the west, Jupiter is high in the southeast in the early evening, looking snazzy at -2.6 magnitude now, quite bright. As the night darkens, find the reddish star Antares (a first-magnitude double star) to the large planet’s right.

Saturn follows Jupiter to ascend the southeast sky in the evening. The ringed planet is at opposition July 9, which means that the sun is opposite the giant Saturn — from our own earthly perspective, according to the Naval Observatory. In other words, instead of a full moon, we’re looking at a full Saturn.

The ringed planet’s opposition means we can see it all night, and from late June through late July, Saturn is a bright zero magnitude — chilling in the constellation Sagittarius — throughout the heart of summer.

A fattening gibbous moon approaches Jupiter on July 12, passing the large planet July 13. The plump moon hugs Saturn on July 15 and passes it by July 16 — when the moon is full to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch.

The South Pacific, Chile and Argentina can enjoy a four-minute total solar eclipse July 2. San Francisco’s Exploratorium ( teams with the National Science Foundation to offer a video stream of it from 4 to 5 p.m. Eastern time. This total solar eclipse cannot be seen from the United States.

The partial lunar eclipse July 16 is good for observers in Europe, Africa and South Asia, according to eclipse expert Fred Espenak ( North America will completely miss it.

Down-to-Earth Events:

●July 2 — “Spacesuits: Apollo to Today,” a panel discussion on astronautical outerwear for the past half-century. Lockheed Martin Imax Theater, National Air and Space Museum, Mall. 8 p.m.

●July 5 — Astronomer Tony Farnham discusses Comet Wirtanen’s recent visit at the University of Maryland observatory, College Park. Gazing through telescopes afterward, weather permitting. 9 p.m.

●July 6 — Enjoy Jupiter’s brilliance and the fun Summer Triangle at “Exploring the Sky,” hosted by the National Park Service and the National Capital Astronomers, at Rock Creek Park, near the Nature Center, in the field south of Military and Glover roads NW. 9 p.m.

●July 14 — “Cosmic Explosions and Stellar Collapses: The Mystery of the Origin of Gamma-Ray Bursts,” a talk by NASA program scientist Valerie Connaughton at the regular meeting of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, 163 Research Hall, George Mason University. 7 p.m.

●July 16 — Of small steps and giant leaps, the late Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit goes on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Mall.

●July 18 — “One Giant Leap: Space Diplomacy Past, Present, Future,” a discussion by former astronauts Michael Collins (Apollo 11) and Charles Bolden (four shuttle missions) and Ellen Stofan, director of the National Air and Space Museum. They will talk on the political and foreign policy ramifications of the Apollo program. 5 p.m. Lisner Auditorium, George Washington University. Tickets: Information:

●July 19 — “Discover the Moon,” a day of educational and family activities to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. 10 a.m.-3 p.m., National Air and Space Museum, Mall.

●July 2o — “The Eagle Has Landed,” a free late-night celebration with Apollo 11-themed music, scavenger hunts, science demonstrations, stargazing and more. At 10:56 p.m., count down to the exact moment when astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. 8 p.m.-2 a.m., National Air and Space Museum, Mall.

●July 20 — “No Dark in Sight,” a talk about light pollution by Bill Davis, a Western Michigan University professor, at the University of Maryland observatory, College Park. Night sky viewing afterward, weather permitting. 9 p.m.

●July 21 — “Looking Up at the Stars,” with solar scopes and telescopes (at night), at the Saddlebrook East Community Park, 8311 Race Track Rd., Bowie. Hosted by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, with the Goddard Astronomy Club. 7:30 p.m. Weather permitting.

Blaine Friedlander can be reached at