The pre-dawn planet show we sky-watchers have been enjoying in June will continue into July, but some changes are on the way as we progress through the month. Mercury’s orbit will swing it past the Sun where it will emerge on the other side of our star between July 25th to the 29th. Look for Mercury in the west around 8:30 pm on the 29th when it lies just below and left of a crescent Moon. The combination of the orbital movements of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; and also that of Earth, will cause these planets to appear to rise sooner, although still in the very late evening or very early morning eastern skies.
Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are all moving toward opposition later this year when they will all be at their closest to Earth and at their greatest brightness in over a year.
Saturn rises before 11 pm in early July and from 1 am to dawn will be favorably placed for viewing. Saturn brightens this month and telescopic views will be great; its rings system tilted 13 degrees to our line of sight. Saturn will be just above and left of the waning gibbous Moon on July 15th.
Jupiter rises just after midnight on July 1st and an hour before on July 31st. It brightens too in July. Best views occur in the hours just before dawn when it will be the highest in the sky, and telescopic views will reveal many surface features, while binoculars will show its 4 brightest Moons as jewels on either side of the giant planet.
Mars rises around 2 am in the east and slowly brightens throughout the month. Mars will still appear small even in telescopes, but when at opposition in December it will be more than 2 times bigger and much brighter. This will be something to look forward to seeing; a special holiday gift for us this year!
Venus dominates the eastern sky before dawn and appears close to a number of bright stars during the month as it moves along its orbit. Venus is just above Aldebaran (Taurus) on July 1st; passes just above Orion July 16 to 18; and just below a nice waning crescent Moon on July 26.
Earth reaches aphelion in its elliptical orbit; farthest point from the Sun on July 4th. July’s Full Moon is on the 13th.