The July Skies

“It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

Carl Sagan, 1934-1996

Little Mercury can be spotted without any optical aid during the first half of July. As the sky darkens during evening twilight, look for it low in the west-northwest, to the lower right of dazzling Venus. Mercury then rapidly sinks lower and fades from view. This small planet is the most heavily cratered planet in our entire solar system because of its numerous collisions with comets and asteroids.

Venus beams brightly due west, sinking lower each evening as the month progresses. On July 9th the brilliant planet is in conjunction with the multiple star system Regulus. Then, on July 15, a waxing crescent moon and Venus make a beautiful picture in the western evening sky.

Mars, the Red Planet, puts on quite a show this month. It reaches opposition on July 27th, when it will be bigger and brighter than it has been in over a decade. Even small amateur telescopes will display some of the planet’s surface features and possibly some of its weather phenomenon. Mars will be so close to Earth that it will be equal to Jupiter in peak brightness. The Red Planet won’t be this close to Earth again until September, 2035.

The globular star cluster M92 in the constellation Hercules can be spotted in binoculars and small telescopes on clear July evenings and can even be glimpsed with no optical aid by sharp-eyed observers on a moonless night from a dark site. Astronomers believe that this is one of the oldest globular clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy with an age nearly the same as the age of the Universe. Courtesy NASA, ESA, Hubble Space Telescope

Giant Jupiter shines in the west-southwestern evening twilight, setting about four hours after the sun. On the evening of July 19-20, Jupiter will be close to the moon and to the upper right of the star Alpha Librae.

Since Saturn arrived at opposition on June 27, it begins July visible from dusk to dawn. The ring system remains incredibly beautiful, open to 26 degrees, which is nearly its maximum tilt. Saturn reaches its highest point in the sky during the late evening.

Distant Uranus rises in the east in the predawn sky. Its disk is 99.9 percent illuminated at the present time.

Remote Neptune reaches nearly its highest point in the dawn southern sky during July.

Earth reaches its farthest distance from the sun in space (aphelion) on July 6.

When Mars reaches perihelic opposition on July 27th, the Red Planet will be bigger and brighter in our night sky than it’s been in over a decade. Try hard to view the planet through a telescope during this close approach because Mars won’t be this close again until September, 2035. Courtesy NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team

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This monthly guide to the stars is from the Marshall Martz Memorial Astronomical Association and The Post-Journal. For further information, contact the M.M.M.A.A. at www.martzobservatory.org.

Another image of Mars taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. Like Earth, Mars has clouds, fog, haze, and dust storms. At times the dust storms can obliterate all of the Martian surface features from our view. Courtesy NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The beautiful Ring Nebula (M57) can be seen in small telescopes during clear nights in July. This gas and dust cloud was created by the small star in the center as it burned out the last of its nuclear fuel. This object is in the constellation Lyra. Courtesy NASA, ESA

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