Comet C/1999 LINEAR, a first-time visitor to the inner solar system, has been brightening nicely, and should be an easy target for binoculars and telescopes (and, barely, for the naked eye) through its closest approach to the earth, on July 23rd, at which point it may be as bright as fifth magnitude (though comet brightnesses are difficult to estimate), after which it will fade again, but should continue to be observable through August and into September.
At its brightest point in late July, the comet is low in the northwestern sky, just under the bowl of the Big Dipper, and heading further westward and southward each day. There's a good finder chart and more information online at Sky Publishing's site, http://www.skypub.com/sights/comets/0007linearS4.html.
Jupiter and Saturn rise almost together, around midnight by month's end. An unsubstantiated rumor on the Shallow Sky list suggests that Jupiter's Great Red spot may be darker than last year. Is it darkening again, so those of us who have seen only the Great Pale Spot will get a chance at to see why it earned its name? Will the white ovals preceding and following the spot have merged since last year? Stay tuned for these and other adventures, as the gas giants move back into our evening sky.
Uranus and Neptune continue to swim with the sea-goat, Capricornus, and are well placed (though low due to their far-southerly declination this year) for observation. Neptune is just past its opposition at the end of July; Uranus reaches opposition on August 11. Both should easily show small blue/green discs to telescopic observers. Pluto, in Ophiuchus, is also still observable this month.
Mercury is observable in the morning sky for the first few weeks of August. Venus remains too close to the sun all month for those of us in the northern hemisphere.
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