Our sister planet Venus makes her appearance this month on the west-northwest horizon about 9 p.m.
At magnitude -3.8, it outshines all but the moon. By midmonth, Venus sets about 40 minutes after sunset.
The first half of the month finds Mercury at dawn in the east-northeast. Look for Mercury at 5 a.m. Tuesday. The winged messenger is only 5 degrees from the 281/2-day-old tiny sliver of the crescent moon.
Mars and Saturn remain in the constellation Leo. Mars is less than a degree from Regulus, the heart of Leo, on Tuesday. Mars continues to move south through Leo, passing Saturn on July 7. Saturn and Mars are in conjunction on the evening of July 10. On Sunday, Saturn, Mars and the waxing crescent moon all lie within the field of a pair of 7x50 binoculars.
On July 9, the giant gas planet Jupiter rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. Look for it in the southwest in the constellation Sagittarius, shining brightly at magnitude-2.7. On Independence Day, Saturn, Regulus, Mars and the moon line up, with the moon on the horizon in the Beehive, or Praesepe. At 4:30 a.m. July 20, you may spot Neptune.
The nearly full moon is in the south-southwest, in the constellation Capricorn. In a pair of 7x50 binoculars, place the moon at the edge of the field at the 4 o'clock position. Near the center of the field will be three stars (45, 44 and 42 Capricorni) in a line. Right above the center star, you may see Neptune, at magnitude 7.8.
The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks in the dawn hours of July 28. This is considered a significant shower, averaging 15 to 20 meteors an hour, with a potential peak of 60 an hour. The waning crescent moon will not rise until 2 a.m., and should not pose a problem when observing this shower.
For those of you still uncertain about the status of the celestial body known as Pluto (Kuiper Belt Object? Dwarf Planet?) the International Astronomical Union recently announced that Pluto will now be classified as a ''plutoid,'' along with the object known as Eris. Therefore, there now exist two plutoids in our solar system. This should clear things up considerably. For a complete explanation of this IAU decision, go to http://www.iau.org/public_press/news/release/iau0804/.
Q: What happened to that Earth-like planet found a few months ago? Does it really have life on it? — J.B., Akron.
A: A star about 20 light-years distant in the constellation Libra, Gliese 581 (also known as Wolf 562 and HIP74995c in other star catalogs) was found to have three planets orbiting it. It was determined that one of the planets — designated ''C'' — may be only about five times as massive and half again as large as Earth, lying in what is known as the ''Habitable Zone.'' This area, neither too close nor too far from its parent star, may have conditions conducive to the formation of life as we know it.
Further investigations revealed that ''C'' was probably too hot for liquid water to exist, and Gliese 581c is no longer a candidate for a ''habitable'' planet. Being ''habitable'' does not mean life exists on a planet. Astrophysicists are not yet able to detect biological activity on extra-solar planets, so we may not know if life has evolved elsewhere until such technology exists.
The Hoover-Price Planetarium will begin showing Mars Update July 12. The Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity have been a tremendous success for NASA and have provided us with an amazing amount of new and sometimes confounding information about the Red Planet.
Presentations are at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Weekday planetarium shows are at 1 p.m. The planetarium is included with admission to the William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum. Call 330-455-7043 for information.
David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive N.W., Canton, 44708, http://www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.