Get ready for summer stargazing! With weather warming up, July is a great time of year to enjoy relaxing evenings under starry skies with your telescope or astronomy binoculars. Here are a few of Orion's top picks for July stargazing:
Mars Up Close!
In late July the red planet Mars will appear bigger and brighter in the sky than it has since 2003! So bright, in fact, that it will outshine even giant Jupiter from early July through early September, grabbing third-place bragging rights for brightness after the Moon and Venus.
Mars reaches opposition on July 27th, which is when the Earth passes directly between Mars and the Sun. Since Mars will be directly opposite the Sun in the sky as seen from Earth, the red planet will rise at sunset and set at sunrise, providing a welcome opportunity for great views in a telescope. And Mars' closest approach occurs four days later, on July 31st, when its apparent diameter will max out at 24.3 arcseconds. That's HUGE by Mars standards and is less than one second of arc smaller than in 2003 - which was a nearly 60,000-year record! Indeed, Mars will exceed 24 arcseconds for the period between July 23rd and August 9th. So get out your telescope and a high-power eyepiece and have a look while the lookin's good!
You can easily enhance your views of Mars with our exclusive, custom-designed Orion Mars Observation Filter to eke out details of subtle Martian landscape features.
Mercury will reach greatest eastern elongation
Just after the Sun sets on July 12th, tiny planet Mercury will reach its greatest eastern elongation. Since Mercury will be at its highest point in the evening sky, it's a great opportunity to observe the tiny planet. It won't be high in the sky for long though, so look above the western horizon after sunset to catch the elusive planet.
July 13th is the darkest night of the month and therefore the best time to observe the more faint objects like galaxies and star clusters. Grab your gear and enjoy!
Hercules almost directly overhead and Scorpius
With constellation Hercules almost directly overhead and Scorpius to the south, there's plenty to see in July skies as summer continues. Check out globular star clusters M13 and M92 in Hercules, and explore Scorpius to find numerous deep-sky objects including open clusters M6 and M7, and globular clusters M4 and M80.
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 July 29th. The Delta Aquarids is an average shower that can produce up to 20 meteors per hour. Unfortunately, a bright, nearly full Moon will overpower all but the brightest shooters of this year's shower.
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.
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?
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.