Longer daylight hours in summer mean that our skies do not become dark enough for real sky-watching until after 9 pm in July. Nevertheless, planets highlight what we may see this month.
VENUS and MARS will appear to meet up between July 11th and 13th. On the 13th they will be separated by less than the diameter of the Full Moon on July 13th. The thin crescent Moon will be seen near the pair of planets on July 11th and 12th. Venus and Mars will become visible in the western sky 45 minutes after sunset and will themselves set about an hour later. Venus is easier to spot, dazzling white, and 190 times brighter than Mars. Wait for twilight to fade to look for Mars just below and left of Venus. Binoculars and telescopes will have them both in the same field of view.
Saturn is just a month away from its August 2nd opposition, when it will be closer to Earth than it has been in just over one year. Now it rises in the eastern sky around 10 pm on July 1st, and two hours earlier by July 31st. Its best placing for viewing this month will be between midnight and 3 am.
Jupiter also rises in the East, around 11 pm on July 1st and by 9 pm on July 31st. Best views of Jupiter will be after midnight to dawn. Jupiter dominates its place in the sky among the dim stars of Aquarius and Capricornus because at magnitude –2.8, it is very bright. Saturn’s magnitude +0.1 is dimmer, but still bright, and is some 20 degrees west (right) of Jupiter.
This month’s Full Moon is on July 23rd. On July 24th the slightly less Full Moon will be below Saturn, and on the 25th just below Jupiter.
The Summer Triangle, an asterism, composed of three 1st magnitude stars: Deneb in Cygnus; Vega in Lyra (the brightest of the 3); and Altair in Aquila lies high above us, straddling the zenith during July. The “summer Milky Way” can be seen from the southern horizon running up through the zenith and down to the northeast. On clear July nights, away from street lights, this glowing path of stars and gases can be seen. Follow the path through binoculars from south to northeast for a startling and beautiful sight!