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?
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
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
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
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.
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.
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 West from Glasgow around midnight on 19th July 2012. Arcturus dominates the sky to the west.
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 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.
What else is happening in space?
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: