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:
- Venus and Jupiter Conjunction Planets Venus and Jupiter kick off the month with a must-see conjunction visible in the evening sky of July 1st. The two bright planets will appear extremely close in the sky - a mere 0.3 degrees apart - marking the closest conjunction of planets visible to the naked eye in 2015. Look in the western sky just after sunset to catch this pretty pair.
- Scorpius Star Clusters Throughout July, use astronomy binoculars or a telescope and wide-angle eyepiece for great views of sparkling open star clusters. Both M6, "The Butterfly Cluster", and M7, "the Ptolemny 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 "Star Queen 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.
- Spectacular Saturn Still well-positioned in July night skies, ringed Saturn is a wonderful summer planetary target for telescopes. Look for the bright planet 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. Saturn and its brightest moon, Titan, can be observed in any size telescope. Larger telescopes and clear, dark skies will help you see a thin gap between Saturn's largest rings, which is called the Cassini Division.
- The Summer Milky Way In mid-July, around 10pm, 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 sky location, scan the Milky Way with 50mm or larger binoculars or use 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.
- Saturn and the Moon July winds down with a close pairing of the waxing gibbous Moon and ringed planet Saturn. Look for this conjunction on July 26th as Saturn appears within 2 degrees of the Moon.
- 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. Unfortunately, the waxing gibbous Moon of late July will make meteor observations a challenge this year, but it's still worth a try. For the best chance to see meteors, get outside on the nights of July 28th and 29th and look towards the constellation Aquarius. The Delta Aquarids is an average shower that can produce up to 20 meteors per hour. It is produced by debris left behind by comets Marsden and Kracht
- 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 by Steve Peters
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.