Summer stargazing fun continues! Warm July nights are ideal opportunities to explore starry skies with family and friends.
Here are some of our top suggestions for July stargazing:
Last Call for Jupiter
Use a telescope in July to enjoy telescopic views of Jupiter before the gas giant planet sinks below the horizon in early August. Throughout the month, look for the bright planet before midnight in the constellation Virgo. On the night of July 28th, Jupiter and the waxing crescent Moon will make a pretty pair as they appear close to one another above the western horizon.
Scorpius Star Clusters
Throughout July, use astronomy binoculars or a telescope and wide-angle eyepiece for great views of some sparkling open star clusters in Scorpius. Both M6, "The Butterfly Cluster", and M7, "The Ptolemy Cluster" can be found near the "stinger" region of the constellation.
Saturn Sticks Around
After reaching opposition in mid-June, Saturn continues to be well-positioned in the night skies of July. By around 10pm, look for the ringed planet high above the southern horizon just south of constellation Ophiuchus. To reveal Saturn's beautiful rings, use an eyepiece that will yield at least 40x in your telescope. Boost magnification up to at least 100x for the best views. While Saturn and its brightest moon, Titan, can be observed in any size telescope, larger models will help you detect more features. On July 6th, the waxing gibbous Moon will appear close to Saturn throughout the night.
Scan the Summer Milky Way with astronomy binoculars or a telescope to reveal some of the best emission nebulas of July. In Sagittarius, track down M8, the "Lagoon Nebula"; M20, the "Trifid Nebula"; and M17, the "Swan Nebula." In the constellation Serpens Cauda, see the delicate "Eagle Nebula", M16. Use big binoculars to frame both M16 and M17 in the same field-of-view, or use a really large telescope to coax out the faint violet glow of M16.
The Summer Milky Way
From a dark sky location in mid-July, the glorious Summer Milky Way shines as a band of light that stretches from the southern horizon to nearly overhead. As the night progresses, the Milky Way will arch across the entire sky. From a dark observing site, scan the Milky Way with 50mm or larger binoculars or a wide-angle telescope to explore some of the hundreds of open star clusters, emission nebulas and planetary nebulas that lurk among the star clouds.
Dying Stars and Glowing Gas
Look to the constellation Lyra with a telescope to catch one of the best planetary nebulas in the sky — M57, the famous "Ring Nebula."
Late July Meteors
July winds down with the Delta Aquarids meteor shower. For the best chance to see meteors, look towards Aquarius after midnight on July 29th into the early morning hours of July 30th. The Delta Aquarids is an average shower that can produce up to 20 meteors per hour. Sit back, relax and enjoy the show!
Catch Mercury After Sunset
Tiny planet Mercury reaches its greatest eastern elongation from the Sun on July 30th. Catch a glimpse of the smallest planet in the Solar System low in the western sky just after sunset.
July Challenge Object — Hercules Galaxy Cluster
About half a billion light years from Earth in the constellation Hercules, not far from the star Beta Hercules in the southwest corner of the "keystone" asterism, lies the "Hercules Galaxy Cluster." This association is a group of 200-300 distant galaxies, the brightest of which is NGC 6050 at about 10th magnitude and can be seen with an 8" reflector under very dark skies with good seeing conditions. A larger aperture, 14"-16" telescope will begin to show about a half-dozen or more galaxies in one field-of-view. How many can you see in your telescope?
All objects described above can be easily seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.