As the sun sets in the northwest at 8:31 Friday, July’s full moon rises in the southeast. Native American and folk lore call this the Thunder Moon, the Hay Moon and the Buck Moon. We’re all familiar with this moon’s strong, mid-summer storms, and farmers still begin their harvest of winter livestock feed at this time.
But even with the explosion in the deer population, the Buck Moon is more obscure. But this is the time when male deer regrow their antlers in preparation for the rutting season, when they rely on them to protect territory and battle for does. But once the mating season has passed, in late-winter or early spring, depending on the breed, the bucks shed their antlers each winter or spring — all except reindeer.
The full moon hovers at the head of one of the faintest and strangest constellations, Capricornus the goat-fish. Look just above the moon for the constellation’s brightest star, third-magnitude Dabih. While the constellation is dim and abstract, the sun passes through it from late January to mid-February.
Since the earliest records of civilization, people gazing at the heavens have recognized that Capricornus and 11 other constellations traveled along the same path as the sun, moon and planets. These zodiacal constellations are the oldest recognized star patterns, with Babylonian tablets from 3,000BC depicting Capricornus with its goat’s head and body and fish’s tail.
As the evening sky darkens, look to the west for Mercury peering over the horizon for up to an hour after sunset. The innermost planet is one of the brightest objects in the sky at magnitude 0, but it is so low what you may need binoculars to spot it. Saturn appears in the southwest with sunset and sets in the east at midnight. Jupiter rises around 1am and is high in the east by dawn, when Mars appears in the east.