Some months are astronomically quiet – others are bursting with a variety of interesting events to try and see, keeping in mind the moon phases and weather. July 2022 is another exciting month; throughout the July night sky, there are usually 2+ opportunities to spot a number of astronomical objects and events, including Messier objects, planets, asteroids, and more.
July is also a fantastic month to stay up late and observe the Milky Way, as the earth is tipped toward the Galactic Core and we can see it stretching across the sky in the northern hemisphere. (Unfortunately, we are “plagued” by long days due to the June solstice, but I really can’t complain about that since I love the long daylight of summer.)
In any case, there are plenty of reasons to get out and enjoy the night sky this month, and I hope you take full advantage of them. Whether you’re heading out on your own, trying out some new equipment, or bringing family or friends out to share the wonders of the universe with them, here are the best events in the July night sky to plan your stargazing sessions around.
This post was originally published in June 2018, and is updated annually, most recently in June 2022.
July 1 – M22 is Well Placed
While we’re well past Messier Marathon season, there are still Messier deep space objects you can spot in the night sky throughout the year; July kicks off with such an opportunity.
The globular cluster Messier 22 (M22) is located near the galactic center, which is why it is most visible in the summer months when the Milky Way is high in the sky. You’ll need a telescope or binoculars to spot M22, and I recommend using a star finder app to spot M22, which is near the constellation Sagittarius.
July 4 – The Earth at Aphelion
You can’t actually see this first astronomical event in the July night sky, because it’s happening to the earth! On July 4th, the earth will be at aphelion, our furthest point from the sun during our annual orbit. On this day, we’ll be 1.02 AU from the sun – that’s about 222,000 more miles from the sun than average. Don’t worry though, we can’t see or feel the difference!
July 15 – Conjunction of the Moon & Saturn
After a few days of limited astronomical activity, there are a number of great astronomical events in the second half of July – so here’s hoping for clear skies as the dog days of summer set in.
With a full Moon high in the sky mid-month, you might assume that this week in July is not a good time for stargazing, but there’s always something to see if you are willing to head out and look. On July 15th, a 90%-illuminated moon will serve as a guide to spot the ringed planet of Saturn. The two will appear about 4°02′ at their closest, which is called a Close Approach. Simultaneously, the two solar system objects will be at their closest of the month, called a Conjunction.
July 17 – M55 is Well Placed
If you missed seeing M22 early in July, there’s another opportunity to spot a similar globular cluster, Messier 55 (M55). On the night of July 17th, M55 will be high in the sky and thus well-placed for observation. It too is near the constellation Sagittarius and requires stargazing equipment to view; distant Pluto is actually in a similar part of the sky too, if you want to try and view everyone’s favorite former/dwarf planet.
July 18 – Conjunction of the Moon & Jupiter
For an observational opportunity closer to home, there’s a follow-up conjunction and close approach viewing on the night of July 18th, the Moon and Jupiter will be at conjunction and make a close visual approach, appearing 2°13′ apart in the evening sky. They should both be easy to spot with the unaided eye, as Jupiter is always bright and the Moon will be 60% illuminated. This is a great opportunity to go stargazing with kids since you need no gear to see both solar system objects.
July 20 – Asteroid 9 Metis & Pluto at Opposition
I’ve already mentioned a good opportunity to view Pluto on the night of July 17th while you’re out enjoying M55; there’s an even better opportunity to view it on the night of July 20th when it reaches opposition. For those not familiar with the term, it means that Pluto and the Sun will be opposite of on another (with the Earth in between, kind of like the alignment of an eclipse over huge distances). The Sun will brightly illuminate Pluto, making it a great time to view our solar system neighbor.
Similarly, asteroid 9 Metis will be at opposition on the 20th. This is one of the larger main-belt asteroids, and takes 1,347 days to orbit the sun – it has made just 47 trips around the sun since its discovery in 1848. Be sure to use a star-finder app to spot both 9 Metis and Pluto.
July 21 – Conjunction/Lunar Occultation of Mars
If you are lucky enough to call the Kamchatka Peninsula or far eastern Siberia home, приветствовать! Thanks for reading! Sorry our countries can’t get along right now…
Anyway! For those who are in that geography, you will have the chance to see a lunar occultation of Mars on the night of July 21st. While the rest of us are enjoying a conjunction and close approach of the two nearest solar system bodies, you’ll see Mars slip behind the 34% illuminated waning crescent moon.
For the rest of us, Mars and the Moon will appear relatively close to one another, appearing 1°03′ apart at their nearest visual approach (around midnight EDT). This is a nice opportunity to pull out your favorite telescope or binoculars to observe Mars and lunar terminator, but you don’t need any equipment to enjoy this event in the July night sky.
July 22 – Lunar Occultation of Uranus
As I mentioned at the top of the year, 2022 is the year of Uranus… no jokes intended! Throughout the year, there have been – and will continue to be – a series of lunar occultations of Uranus that provide excellent observation opportunities.
Unfortunately, the lunar occultation of Uranus on July 22 will not be viewed by anyone on land; the primary observation window is over the mid-Atlantic ocean. If you happen to find yourself on a transatlantic sailing or flying from the Americas to Africa on this night, you might cross over the region – but will likely lack the stability necessary to pull out your gear and observe distant Uranus sliding behind the waning crescent moon.
(I only included this event, which I know – like the lunar occultation of Mars – basically nobody will see, as a reminder that these occultations are happening frequently this year and the viewing opportunities will only get better as the year goes on.)
July 22 – Asteroid 192 Nausikaa at Opposition
Want to try and spot another asteroid this month? Here’s your chance: Asteroid 192 Nausikaa will be at opposition on the night of July 22nd. This large main-belt asteroid was discovered in 1879; it looks a bit like a die from Dungeons & Dragons, if you’re curious about its shape.
You might wonder about its name, which is vaguely reminiscent of a character in anime, perhaps. Instead, it is a phonetic respelling of “Princess Nausicaä,” a character from Homer’s Odyssey. There’s almost always an interesting story behind all of the named objects in our solar system and beyond!
July 29 – Peak of the Piscis Austrinid Meteor Shower
The first in a trio of meteor showers that round out the month, the Piscis Austrinid meteor shower will peak on the night of July 29th. As its name implies, this shower can be seen lower in the southeastern sky of the southern hemisphere.
To try and spot Piscis Austrinid meteors, you’ll need to stay up late: the peak is expected to occur around 3am local time, and the radiant point will be in the Piscis Austrinus constellation. The maximum rate of meteors you can expect to see will be about 5 per hour.
July 30 – Peak of the Southern δ-Aquariid & α-Capricornid Meteor Showers
Two more meteor showers provide the final good stargazing and meteor-spotting opportunities of July, and both peak on the night of July 30th.
The first is the Southern δ-Aquariids. Better viewed from the southern hemisphere (or further south on the northern hemisphere), you can expect to see a maximum of around 25 meteors per hour. Look for the constellation Aquarius in the southeastern sky to try and identify the radiant point.
The second meteor shower on this night is the α-Capricornid, a much less active shower with an expected maximum rate of 5 meteors per hour. The constellation Capricornus will be in the south-southeastern sky, not far from Aquarius – it’ll be hard to tell which meteors “belong” to which shower but together they create the prospects for an interesting night.
(Don’t worry, more compelling meteor showers are on the way – the Perseids are fast approaching!)
Have other questions about these astronomical events in the July night sky? Let me know in the comments!