Summer stargazing fun continues in July! Warm July nights are ideal opportunities to spend time outside with family and friends, exploring the heavens with your telescope or astronomy binoculars.
Here are some of our top suggestions for July stargazing:
- The Moon and the Red Planet - On July 6th, grab a telescope or pair of 50mm or larger astronomy binoculars to see the Moon positioned close to Mars in the sky.
- The Moon and the Ringed Planet - Just a couple days later on July 8th, you can enjoy a close pairing in the sky between the Moon and Saturn called a conjunction.
- The Summer Milky Way - At mid-month, around 10pm PT, the glorious Summer Milky Way shines down as a band of light that stretches from the Southern horizon to nearly overhead. You don't need binoculars or a telescope to see our home galaxy, but it is best observed from a site with inky-black dark skies. The Summer Milky Way will arch across the sky as the night progresses.
- Spectacular Saturn - Still well-positioned in July skies, ringed Saturn continues to be a wonderful summer planetary target. Look for it in south to southwestern July skies around 10pm. Use an eyepiece that will yield at least 40x in your telescope to see Saturn's beautiful rings, then use a Barlow lens or higher-power eyepiece to go in for closer views. Larger telescopes and clear, dark skies will help you see a thin gap between Saturn's largest rings, which is called the Cassini Division.
- Sparkling Open Star Clusters - In the constellation Scorpius, catch M6, the "Butterfly Cluster" and M7 in 50mm or larger binoculars. Point a telescope at these two open star clusters to try to see the subtle dust clouds nearby.
- Flaming Gas Clouds - Scan the Summer Milky Way with 50mm or larger binoculars or a telescope to reveal some of the best emission nebulas of July. Use an Orion Oxygen-III Nebula Eyepiece Filter for the most stunning views. In Sagittarius, track down M8, the "Lagoon Nebula"; M20, the "Trifid Nebula"; and M17, the "Swan Nebula." In the constellation Serpens Cauda, see the delicate "Star Queen Nebula, M16. Use big astronomy binoculars to frame both M16 and M17 in the same field-of-view, or use a really large telescope to coax out the faint violet glow of M16.
- Dying Stars and Glowing Balls of Gas - Look to the constellation Lyra with a telescope to catch one of the best Planetary Nebulas in the sky - M57, the famous "Ring Nebula"!
- Late July Meteors - Discovered in 1825 by the German astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, NGC 6572 is bright enough to be seen in a 60mm refractor telescope; but it is very, very small! At only 8 arc seconds in size, it takes a lot of magnification to distinguish this from a star. The easiest way to find it is to look in the target area for a green star. NGC 6572 is one of the most intensely colored objects in the night sky. Some say this is green, some say it is blue; what do you think?
- July Challenge Object - Hercules Galaxy Cluster: About half a billion light years from Earth in the constellation Hercules, not far from the star Beta Hercules in the southwest corner of the "keystone" asterism, lays the "Hercules Galaxy Cluster." This association is a group of 200-300 distant galaxies, the brightest of which is NGC 6050 at about 10th magnitude and can be seen with an 8" reflector under very dark skies with good seeing conditions. A larger aperture, 14"-18" telescope will begin to show about a half-dozen or more galaxies in one field-of-view. How many can you see in your telescope?
M20 Trifid Nebula, Doug Hubbell
All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars. All objects have been verified by actual observations by Orion Telescopes & Binoculars Staff at Fremont Peak State Park, and/or Deep Sky Ranch, 60 miles and 90 miles respectively from San Jose International Airport, San Jose, CA.