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 2021 is another exciting month, like last July and the past few months; the July night sky will be full of different objects moving through the celestial dance – and a few meteor showers too, depending on your location.
If you need a telescope to help enjoy any of this month’s night sky events, we have a guide to the best stargazing telescopes. We also have guides based on price, whether you want to buy a solid telescope under $300 or splurge on a one of the best telescopes under $1,000 instead.
If you’re ready to experience one (or all) of these July night sky events, read on to learn about them and how you can see each one.
Featured photo credit: Paul Balfe via Flickr
July 5 – 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 5th, 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 7 – Comet 15P/Finlay at its Brightest
Comet 15P/Finlay will be at its brightest on July 7th. Sounds like a great time to view, right? Unfortunately, the comet may or may not be visible in the pre-dawn sky at that time. It all depends on your location on the globe!
This is due to the comet’s place in the July night sky and its faintness that quickly becomes obscured by the first light of the day. As July wears on, the comet moves into the constellation Taurus and becomes visible for longer each day, so mark your calendar if you want to try and spot it later in the month as the odds improve. (Here‘s a handy table that will help you get a sense for when the comet may be visible for you.)
July 8 – Mercury Reaches its Highest Point in the Morning Sky
Ah little Mercury… so hard to spot! Mercury has several points throughout the year where it appears high enough above the horizon before or after the sun to be seen; the next opportunity is around July 8th, when Mercury will reach its highest point in the morning sky.
To try and spot Mercury, you’ll need a clear, unobstructed view of the eastern horizon. Mercury will only reach a peak of 17° above the horizon on this morning, and the sun will be close behind. You don’t need a telescope to spot Mercury, but remember to protect your eyes; the sun can do damage within a few seconds if you look directly at it even during sunrise.
July 11/12 – Conjunction of the Moon, Venus & Mars
Overnight on July 11th, the Moon will make a close approach with both Venus and Mars as these two neighboring planets are in the same part of the sky.
Depending on your location, you may or may not be able to see the Moon as it approaches its closest with each planet in turn (3°15′ from Venus and then 3°46′ from Mars an hour later). However, it will be easy to spot the three celestial bodies on this evening as both Mars and Venus are bright in the sky and the moon will be a mystical sliver of a crescent moon and just 8% illuminated.
July 13 – Conjunction of Venus & Mars
After making their close visual approaches with the Moon the night before, Venus and Mars get cozy (from our perspective) in the wee hours of July 13th. On this night, around 3am Eastern time in the U.S., bright Venus and dusty Mars will appear 0°29′ apart – almost as close as the Great Conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn last December!
The moon will still be super favorable for stargazing, so this is a great night to pull out your telescope and soak in a nice view of these neighbors.
July 18 – Asteroid 6 Hebe & Pluto both at Opposition
Looking for a night to bring out your telescope for some deeper solar system-gazing? The night of July 18th is a good opportunity. On this night, two objects that require a telescope will be at opposition, that is at their brightest from our perspective and alignment with the sun.
The first is Pluto, which will be at opposition on July 18th, visible in the constellation Sagittarius. It will be in the southeastern sky, not far from both Jupiter and Saturn. As the moon will be a 65% illuminated waxing gibbous phase, it may provide some interference but won’t be in this part of the sky during the main viewing windo.
Asteroid 6 Hebe will also be at opposition on July 18th. This is a large main-belt asteroid that astronomers believe is a very solid, dense object containing 0.5% of the mass of the asteroid belt. Unlike other similarly sized asteroids, it hasn’t been impacted by many other objects over the eons. It will be at its highest around midnight local time no matter your viewing location.
July 24 – Conjunction of the Moon & Saturn
After appearing close to both Mars and Venus earlier in the month, the Moon has moved on – now it’ll make a close approach with Saturn (followed shortly by Jupiter). On the morning of July 24th, the moon will be full and bright, which may interfere with your ability to spot Saturn at their closest, about 3°48′ apart. Look for the pair in the southwestern sky before sunrise if you want to try and spot them.
July 25 – Conjunction of the Moon & Jupiter
As mentioned, the Moon moves on from Saturn to Jupiter quickly; the pair of gas giants are still in the same part of the night sky following last year’s Great Conjunction (also already mentioned). On the night of July 25th, the bright moon will pass 4°10′ from Jupiter at its closest.
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. 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 – Asteroid 12 Victoria at Opposition
For one last asteroid-viewing opportunity in July, pull out your telescope on the night of July 30th. 12 Victoria, a stony main-belt asteroid, will be at opposition on this night and appear at its brightest for the year. Look for the asteroid in the constellation Aquila (you’ll need astronomical binoculars or a telescope for sure).
Fun fact: 12 Victoria originally had a second name, “Clio,” as there was controversy about an asteroid sharing the name of the Queen at the time it was discovered in 1850. But as it was named for the Roman goddess of victory, the original name stuck.
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 Capricorus 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 Persieds are fast approaching!)
Have other questions about these astronomical events in the July night sky? Let us know in the comments!
Featured photo credit: Paul Balfe via Flickr