The July night sky brings many spectacles for us space tourists to discover and enjoy. We get to see meteors from up to three different locations in July’s night sky, plus a handful of good opportunities to see some of our solar system neighbors.
In particular, Jupiter is on display in the night sky in July. Jupiter is still relatively close to the Earth. Some of the best views of this massive planet Jupiter are available in July as Jupiter races towards another astronomical event: its perihelion (closest point to the sun) in early 2024.
Where necessary, we have noted (with 🚨🔭) where you may need binoculars or a telescope to help you get the best view of each celestial event. If you need a telescope to help enjoy this month’s night sky events, we have a guide to the best stargazing telescopes. From the Meade Polaris 130 (under $200) to the Orion Atlas 8 EQ-G GoTo ($2000), you can find one for your astronomy interest and budget.
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.
July 2 – Total Solar Eclipse
Near sunset on July 2nd, a total solar eclipse will pass across parts of the South Pacific, Chile, and Argentina. This winter eclipse doesn’t have the best probability of good weather, but experiencing the totality of a total solar eclipse is an almost spiritual experience you’ll never forget!
July 2 – M22 is Well-Placed
🚨🔭 Note: Binoculars or a telescope will really help you view this object!
M22 is a globular cluster the size of the full moon and about 10,000 light years away. This July night sky event marks M22’s best place in the sky (for star gazers in the Northern Hemisphere at least!) on the 2nd of July. Messier 22 is in the Sagittarius constellation. Look low in the southern sky around midnight to see it. You will need binoculars for the best view.
July 13 – Close Approach of the Moon & Jupiter
The planet Jupiter shines brightly near the moon on July 13 in the Ophiuchus constellation. Look for the pair in the southern sky: the moon will be 11 days old, but Jupiter will be hard to miss. Jupiter will be to the right of the moon, but only about a finger width (about 2°) away.
This is a naked-eye activity, but binoculars will be a handy (but not necessary) tool to see the contrast and closeness between the moon and Jupiter. If you look hard enough, you might even get a view of Jupiter’s moons.
July 16 – Partial Lunar Eclipse
On the night of July 16th-17th, a partial lunar eclipse will allow most of the eastern hemisphere to see the moon turn partly red. Unlike a total lunar eclipse, the moon will not pass completely into the earth’s shadow during this lunar eclipse, so only part of the moon will gain the distinctive reddish hue.
The western part of the world to see this eclipse will do so in the post-sunset and night hours of July 16th, whereas eastern part will experience it in the early morning and pre-dawn hours of July 17th.
July 16 – Close Approach of the Moon, Saturn & Pluto
🚨🔭 Note: Binoculars or a telescope will really help you view Pluto!
Three days after Jupiter and the Moon’s close date, Saturn gets to take a turn with the Moon. The moon and Saturn graze by each other by only 0°13′ apart. Saturn will be in about the same relative position to the moon that Jupiter was at three days prior. You can catch the pair rising in the southwest just before 9:00 PM, reaching its peak height about 27° above the southern horizon at around 10:30 local time.
If you have a telescope (at least 8” or better) then you might get a chance to see the dwarf planet Pluto, which has been in the same part of the sky as Saturn for the last few months. This month, Pluto is only 0°2’ away to the right of the moon. Even with a telescope, Pluto is hard to see and is best identified when compared with previous nights as being the spot that appears to move from night to night relative to the background stars.
Be aware that the full moon is July 16th, so the moon will be very bright and may wash out your view. This is especially the case in locations with poor air quality which may increase haze.
July 21 – Peak of the α–Cygnid Meteor Shower
Meteors from the shower α–Cygnid shower are actually visible all of July and August – but the peak night of activity is expected to be July 21 this year. On this night, you may see up to five meteors per hour.
To find the radiant (apparent area in the sky that the shower comes from) for α–Cygnids, look north-northeast after sunset to the Cygnus constellation, about 68° up. For best results, it is a good idea to look about 30° away from the radiant in any direction, preferably where the sky is darkest, for your best chance of witnessing any meteors in this July sky watching trifecta.
Unfortunately, the moon is 19 days old and could wash out visibility, so keep that in mind when you’re planning to see this July night sky event.
July 29 – Peak of the δ–Aquarid Meteor Shower
The Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower will be visible nightly between July 15th and August 20th. Activity will peak on the 29th with as many as 20 meteors per hour that evening. That is 4 times as many chances to make a wish than with the α–Cygnid shower (above).
Look southeast above the horizon for the constellation Aquarius to see where the meteors will radiate outward from, in all directions. Since the moon will be 27 days old, it will not be bright enough to dilute the showers.
July 31 – Peak of the Piscis Australid Meteor Shower
Rounding off the trio of showers for the night sky of July is the Piscis Australid meteor shower. As its name implies, this shower can be seen lower in the southeastern sky of the southern hemisphere.
Look no more than 30° above the horizon in the Piscis Austrinus constellation. This show will not be hindered by the moon, but its output is only expected to be about five meteors per hour in ideal conditions.
Have other questions about the night sky in July? Let us know in the comments!
Featured photo credit: Paul Balfe via Flickr