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 2023 is somewhere in the middle; throughout the July night sky, you’ll have the chance to spot planets, shooting stars, and even some deep space objects.
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 2023.
July 1 – Close Approach of Venus & Mars
You’ve probably noticed: Venus is really bright right now… no spoilers, but more on that later this month.
This also means it will be super obvious to see when Venus and Mars appear close together in the sky: radiant Venus and dusty Mars have been creeping closer together lately, and will appear at their closest about 3°33′ apart in the constellation Leo on the evening of July 1st.
While the Moon will be quite close to full around that time, it will be in a different part of the sky – making this a perfect opportunity to gaze at our two solar system neighbors.
July 7 – Close Approach of the Moon & Saturn
With the Moon waining as the month marches on, your next best bet to spot some of the celestial dance in our solar system happens on the night of July 7th. Overnight, the Moon (75% illuminated) will appear quite close to Saturn – only about 2°25′ apart.
Look for the pair in the constellation Aquarius and in the southeastern sky if you stay up late to spot them.
July 9 – Venus at Greatest Brightness
As already hinted, Venus is real bright, y’all. You can’t say you haven’t seen it! This is because Venus is reaching its greatest brightness on July 9th. This is called its “greatest brightness in the 2023 evening apparition,” which is to say – the brightest Venus will be in the evening sky before it starts to swing back toward the Sun and eventually appear in the morning skies again.
July 11 – Close Approach of the Moon & Jupiter
For another planet-gazing opportunity, the Moon next meets giant Jupiter in the constellation Aries; the pair will appear just 2°03′ apart on the evening of July 11th. They should both be easy to spot with the unaided eye, as Jupiter is always bright and the Moon will be 26% illuminated. This is a great opportunity to go stargazing with kids since you need no gear to see both solar system objects.
July 21 – Close Approach of the Moon & Mars
After dancing with Venus, the Moon then wants to be close to Mars too – the pair will appear at their closest on the morning of July 21st. While their moment of closest visual approach – just 2°57′ apart – will occur during the day, you can spot them near each other in the pre-dawn hours, as well as just after sunset.
July 22 – Pluto at Opposition
For those not familiar with the term “opposition,” 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 everyone’s favorite dwarf planet.
You will need equipment to see Pluto, which is small and extremely distant; be sure to review my recommended telescopes and binoculars to find something in advance. You’ll also probably need a star-finder app to spot Pluto, which is in the constellation Capricornus.
July 28 – 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 28th into the 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 29 – Mercury Reaches its Evening Peak
After reaching its morning peak in June, Mercury has swung around the sun and now appears in the evening sky for us. It will reach its highest in the sky around July 29th, just 11° above the western horizon. Mercury is truly tiny; I just spotted it for the first time recently, and only my photo (above) verified that I had actually seen it!
Unlike my photo above where the Moon guided me to Mercury, you’ll want to use Mars to lead yourself to Mercury if looking in the late July evenings.
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!)
Deep Space Objects to View in July
In addition to the events listed above, there are some other objects in the night sky you might want to see. You’ll definitely need binoculars or a telescope to spot these deep space objects, but the wonder of looking far into the Milky Way and beyond is worth it!
- Kicking things off, on July 1st you can view the globular cluster Messier 22 high in the sky in the constellation of Sagittarius.
- On July 7th, asteroid 15 Eunomia will reach opposition; as you now know, that means it’s the best night to see it. (Look for it in Sagittarius too.)
- Ten days later on July 17th, the globular cluster Messier 55 in Sagittarius will reach its highest point in the sky for viewing… ah, Milky Way season is great!
Enjoy these extra events to spice up your nights of stargazing, and you’ll gain a greater appreciation of just how much there is to see out there. Have other questions about these astronomical events in the July night sky? Let me know in the comments!