Throughout July, as summer nights grow shorter, you’ll need to start observing about 10pm to see the best views of the summer night sky. If you venture out to a favorite dark sky site away from city lights, you’ll find some of the best celestial treats waiting for you in inky-black skies.
Here are a few of Orion’s top picks for July stargazing:
The Summer Milky Way – Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, will stretch across the July sky from roughly due north to due south embracing such constellations as Cygnus, Cassiopeia and Sagittarius. Under dark skies, the naked eye is a great tool to appreciate this deep sky wonder, but binoculars or a wide angle telescope will enhance your views of our home galaxy!
The Ringed Giant Saturn – Saturn is still visible lower in the Southwest portion of the night sky during July. Use a telescope with about 40 or more power and you’ll see Saturn’s stunning rings. Try and catch it during twilight when it is still higher above the western sky for the best views.
The Summer Triangle – Take a look at our monthly star charts online or a planisphere like the Orion StarTarget and you’ll see three bright stars that dominate the northern sky - Altair, Deneb and Vega; the Summer Triangle. Around 10pm throughout July, Vega, the western most star of the triangle will be nearly overhead.
M57, a Dying Star – Just Southeast of Vega, between the stars Sheliak and Sulafat in the constellation Lyra (consult a star chart or a smartphone program like Orion’s StarSeek app) is the famous "Ring Nebula" or M57. In large telescopes with high-power eyepieces, some observers have even seen the central star.
The Wild Duck Cluster – South of the southernmost star of the Summer Triangle, Altair, in the constellation of Aquila is M11, the Wild Duck Cluster. M11 is a small but rich open star cluster that can be seen with a telescope in even moderately light-polluted skies.
M22, a Grand Globular Cluster – Globular Star Cluster M22, an old, dense ball of tens of thousands of stars can be seen in July in the constellation of Sagittarius. Many amateurs like the appearance of M22 more than another popular globular, M13, since it is slightly more "open" and its stars are perhaps a little easier to resolve.
M8, the Lagoon Nebula – West and slightly south of M22 is M8, one of the "Four Grand Nebulas of Summer." M8 is in Sagittarius just off the "spout" of the teapot asterism. From a dark sky location it is visible to the unaided eye as a hazy patch. Binoculars and larger telescopes will reveal more of this nebula’s details.
M20, the Trifid Nebula – About a binoculars’ field-of-view northeast of M8 is another summer treat, the Trifid Nebula. The Trifid is visible in binoculars from a dark sky and larger telescopes show two distinct globs of lowing gas. The northern glob is dissected into three smaller lobes by dust lanes, giving the name Trifid to M20.
M17, the Swan Nebula – North of M20 is another nebula, the Swan Nebula, or M17. Like M8 and M20, the Swan is a glowing gas cloud where gas and dust are being gravitationally pulled together to form new stars. Use binoculars in a dark sky site or a telescope and Oxygen-III filter in areas of moderate light pollution.
M16, the Eagle Nebula – The last of the Four Great Summer Nebulas is the Eagle or "Star Queen" nebula. More delicate and fainter than M17, this is pretty easily seen with just binoculars from the good sky conditions of a national park, but difficult from a city. As with all deep sky objects, try to find M16 when the Moon is down for best results.