Skywatching in July 2012

Even though the nights are light and the window of opportunity to see the stars and planets, July is a great time of year to watch the sky in the northern hemisphere. In this post, you can find out about the lunar phases, the planets, stars and some of the other things of interest in the sky this month.

The summer solstice was on the 20th June – the longest day of the year – so the days are actually getting shorter (in terms of daylight) again as we move towards winter! Hard to imagine that though!

Lot’s more people will find themselves outdoors though this month taking holidays and perhaps enjoying a more relaxed pace of life – so what better time to look up towards the sky and soak up all there is to be offered?

Coud

A cumulus cloud drifting across a blue sky as sunset nears. Image: © 2012 Derek Shirlaw

Watch the clouds roll by too – there’s a lot to be seen by just looking up! Check out the Cloud Appreciation Society.

Click to embiggen any of the images below.

 

The Phases of the Moon

The Moon

The Moon. Image: NASA

If the Moon is close to being full, the light reflecting from it really does drown-out the light from the fainer objects in the sky. So if it’s stars and planets you want to look at, best to pick a night close to the New Moon.

Full Moon: 3rd July, 18:52
Last Quarter: 11th July, 01:48
New Moon: 19th July, 04:24
First Quarter: 26th July, 08:56

(times above are in Universal Time, UT)

 

The Planets you can see

Venus from Magellan spacecraft. NASA/JPL

Venus from Magellan spacecraft. NASA/JPL

Early bird? Venus and Jupiter can be seen just before sunrise to the Eastern horizon.

Mercury, Mars, and Saturn are in the sky during the hours of daylight and so can’t be viewed given the brightness of the Sun.

Neptune and Uranus can’t be viewed withouth the aid of binoculars or a telescope.

 

The stars to look out for

The constellations overhead from Glasgow, UK around midnight on 19 July 2012

The constellations overhead from Glasgow, UK around midnight on 19 July 2012. Made using Stellarium.

Cassiopeia – the constellation of the vain queen

Her unrivalled beauty on show, Cassiopeia is the dinsitnctive ‘W” in the sky – laid back on her throne and looking in the mirror as she combs her hair. Perhaps best viewed later in the year in the Northern Hemisphere (around November), you might get lucky and catch a glimpse of the Queen looking to the North Easrt around midnight this July.

The constellation of Cassiopeia and how to find Andromeda galaxy

The constellation of Cassiopeia and how to find Andromeda galaxy. Made using Stellarium.

Lying in the hazy band of the Milky Way, Cassiopeia is also useful for pointing out another galaxy – Andromeda. Andromeda is 2.4 million light years away from us and the furthest object you can see using just your eyes. Use the ‘W’ asterism to point out of the Milky Way towards our neighbouring galaxy.

The constellations of Cygnus, Aquila and Lyra

The swan, eagle and harp form one of the best known asterisms – the Summer Triangle.

How to find the Summer Triangle

 

Views of the July night sky

The view looking due South from Glasgow around midnight on 19th July 2012. Skirting the horizon is Anatares – a red supergiant star in the constellation of Scorpius. Perhaps easier to spot is Altair – the eye of Aquila the eagle.

The view looking due South from Glasgow, UK around midnight on 19th July 2012

The view looking due South from Glasgow, UK around midnight on 19th July 2012. Made using Stellarium.

The view looking due West from Glasgow around midnight on 19th July 2012. Arcturus dominates the sky to the west.

The view looking due West from Glasgow, UK around midnight on 19th July 2012. Made using Stellarium.

The view looking due West from Glasgow, UK around midnight on 19th July 2012. Made using Stellarium.

The view looking due North from Glasgow around midnight on 19th July 2012. Capella is the bright star low on the horizon you can see to the North. Polaris (the North star) can also be viewed.

The view looking due North from Glasgow, UK around midnight on 19th July 2012. Made using Stellarium.

The view looking due North from Glasgow, UK around midnight on 19th July 2012. Made using Stellarium.

The view looking due East from Glasgow around midnight on 19th July 2012. The planet Uranus is very low to the East, but as it rises will only really be visible with a telescope.

The view looking due East from Glasgow, UK around midnight on 19th July 2012. Made using Stellarium.

The view looking due East from Glasgow, UK around midnight on 19th July 2012. Made using Stellarium.

 

What else is happening in space?

Curiosity

Curiosity

The next phase of exploring Mars

Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory from NASA is edging ever closer to its destination. All being well, it’ll reach the surface of Mars around the 5th or 6th of August. During its two year mission it’ll be searching for signs of conditions suitable for microbial life, and indeed, if there is, or ever was, any there.

 

A meteor shower

The Delta Aquarids meteor shower happens in late July. Generally not as spectacular as the famous Perseids (which we get to look forward to in August), the Delta Aquarids are best seen from the southern hemisphere though this year these ‘shooting stars’ fall on moonlit nights making them even more difficult to spot.

 

 

Other things you might want to check out:

Astronomy tools that are out of this world!

 

 

About Derek Shirlaw

I'm passionate about science communication, social media, and my home country, Scotland. In particular, I have a real interest in astronomy, digital marketing, and the great outdoors.
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2 Comments

  1. 21st September 2012 @ 22.55 hrs
    Have just seen something very strange pass across the sky in front of my top floor window in the east end of Glasgow. Looked like a meteor shower, maybe 8-9 separate flares all in a group, but flying very low (helicopter level), steady speed and very moving roughly east- west. I’m intrigued! Any explanation?

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