Summer stargazing fun continues in July! Warm July nights are ideal opportunities to spend time outside exploring the heavens with family and friends.
Here are some of our top suggestions for July stargazing:
Last Chance for Jupiter — On the night of July 8th, giant planet Jupiter will appear to pass within a few degrees of the Moon, making a pretty pairing in the sky above the western horizon. July is the last month of the year to grab a good telescopic view of Jupiter before it sinks below the horizon in early August. Don't miss it!
Scorpius Star Clusters — Throughout July, use astronomy binoculars or a telescope and wide-angle eyepiece for great views of some sparkling open star clusters. Both M6, "The Butterfly Cluster", and M7, "The Ptolemy Cluster" can be found near the "stinger" region of the constellation Scorpius.
July Nebulas — Scan the Summer Milky Way with astronomy 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 "Eagle Nebula", M16. Try using big binos 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.
Saturn and Mars Stick Around — Still well-positioned in July night skies, planets Mars and Saturn are wonderful planetary targets for telescopes. Look for the bright planets in south to southwestern July skies around 10pm, with Saturn a bit north of Scorpius' brightest star Antares and Mars near the constellation Libra. Use an eyepiece that will yield at least 40x in your telescope to resolve the planets and reveal Saturn's beautiful rings and the reddish-orange coloring of Mars. To take a closer look, use a Barlow lens or higher-power eyepiece to increase magnification. While Mars, Saturn, and Saturn's brightest moon, Titan, can be observed in any size telescope, larger models will help you detect more features.
The Summer Milky Way — From a dark sky location in mid-July, the glorious Summer Milky Way shines as a band of light that stretches from the southern horizon to nearly overhead. As the night progresses, the Milky Way will arch across the entire sky. From a dark observing site, scan the Milky Way with 50mm or larger binoculars or a wide-angle telescope to explore some of the hundreds of open star clusters, emission nebulas and planetary nebulas that lurk among the star clouds.
Dying Stars and Glowing 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 ? July winds down with the Delta Aquarids meteor shower. For the best chance to see meteors, look towards Aquarius after midnight on July 28th into the early morning hours of 29th. The Delta Aquarids is an average shower that can produce up to 20 meteors per hour. Sit back, relax and enjoy the show!
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, lies 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"-16" 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?
Hercules Cluster by Ezequiel E.
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.