The Night Sky This Month – July 2016

The Milky Way towards the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius.

The Milky Way towards the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius on June 29, 2016 from northern Virginia, USA. Mars is at lower right, Saturn is near center, and Antares is below Saturn.

In July, the Milky Way wheels into view by midnight and draws the eye towards the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius. In the northern hemisphere, these stars lie just over the southeastern horizon by midnight, while southern stargazers see these stars– and the thickest part of the Milky Way– almost directly overhead.

But this July, bright planets distract the eye from the deep sky. Ochre-colored Mars, which outshines all stars at the beginning of July, lies just to the west of the red-orange star Antares at the heart of Scorpius. Sand-colored Saturn lies to the east of Antares. Brilliant Jupiter, always attractive in a telescope, fades in the west in the constellation Leo this month. And Mercury and Venus play cat and mouse later in the month after sunset in the western sky. Here’s what to see in the sky this month.

July 2. For those just settling into the new season, especially for northerners enjoying early summer, it may be slightly unsettling to see the star Aldebaran, a star of northern winter, rising in the east about an hour before sunrise. The cycles of the stars move inexorably forward.

July 4. Earth reaches aphelion, its furthest point from the Sun in its elliptical orbit, at a distance of 152,103,400 km (94,512,904 miles).

July 4. New Moon, 11:01 UT.

July 7. The waxing crescent Moon comes within 3º of the bright white star Regulus, also known as α Leonis, in the western sky after sunset.

Jupiter and the waning crescent Moon set in the western sky at about 10 pm in Jul 7, 2016.

Jupiter and the waning crescent Moon set in the western sky at about 10 pm on Jul 7, 2016.

July 8-9. The Moon comes close to Jupiter in the western sky after sunset. Observers in Madagascar and the southern tip of Africa can see the Moon pass in front of Jupiter at approximately mid-day on July 9.

July 12. First Quarter Moon, 00:52 UT.

July 15. A thickening gibbous Moon lines up with Saturn and the bright star Antares all night. Saturn, which reached opposition early last month, remains resplendent in a telescope, its rings tilted dramatically such that you can trace their path all the way around the planet. Mars lies to the east of this assembly. The Red Planet reached its opposition in May, but it’s still large enough to reveal a few surface features in steady skies.

Saturn, Antares, and the waning gibbous Moon line up as seen at midnight local time on July 15-16, 2016. Mars is to the west (left).

Saturn, Antares, and the waning gibbous Moon line up as seen at midnight local time on July 15-16, 2016. Mars is to the west (left).

July 19. Full Moon, 22:57 UT.

July 26. Last Quarter Moon, 23:00 UT.

28 July. The Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks today. Look for meteors anywhere in the sky, perhaps 5 to 10 per hour, that trace their paths back to a point near the star delta Aquarii (Skat). This annual event favors observers in the southern hemisphere and southerly latitudes in the northern hemisphere, although all observers can see some of these slow-moving meteors.

29 July. For observers in eastern North America and some of western Europe (but not the U.K.), the waning crescent Moon passes in front of Aldebaran in the eastern pre-dawn sky. Check for local times at this link.

Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus just after sunset in the western sky on July 25, 2016.

Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus just after sunset in the western sky on July 25, 2016.

30 July. Just after sunset, the planets Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury line up in a diagonal low over the western horizon. Mercury comes within 0.5º of the star Regulus. Jupiter will slowly fade into the sunset in the coming few weeks and disappear from the night sky. Use binoculars to spot these planets just after sunset.

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