Every month, AY About You outlines the night sky in these easy-to-digest guides. And stargazing in July is another one for the books.
This month features local astrophotography from Arkansan Tony Milligan. You can find more of his spectacular photos on his website, Captured in Time.
Third Quarter: July 1
New Moon: July 9
First Quarter: July 17
Full Moon: July 23*
Third Quarter: July 31
*The full moon of July is often referred to as the Buck Moon, for the new antlers that begin to emerge from the heads of deer this time of year. The July full moon is also less commonly called Thunder Moon, Wort Moon and Hay Moon.
Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower: July 12-August 23
Peak: July 29, 30
Delta Aquarid (Southern δ-Aquariid) is an annual shower consisting of debris from the comets Marsden and Kracht. Its duration typically covers most of July and August, but its peak, or highest quantity of “shooting stars” per hour, is at the end of July. From our vantage point, we should have about 25 meteors per hour in store for us this month (under optimal conditions). The Delta Aquarids will be active from around 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., with best results falling at around 3 a.m.
BONUS: There are two other — much smaller — meteor showers for stargazing in July: Piscis Austrinid and α-Capricornid. Each is capable of around 5 meteors per hour at peak levels, but both of these complementing showers peak on the same nights as the Delta Aquarids. Between the three of them, we should have some good luck this month.
Planets and Special Events
July 4: Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation
Our innermost sibling of the Solar System is celebrating Independence Day in style. On the Fourth of July, Mercury reaches its greatest separation from the Sun in its June/July morning apparition. Two nights later, on July 8, Mercury climbs to its highest altitude in the morning sky. The following day, Mercury officially reaches dichotomy, or half phase. Look to the east in the early morning hours.
July 7: Comet 15P/Finlay Reaches its Brightest
The comet 15P/Finlay has been racing back toward the Sun for the past six years, and this month it will reach both its brightest point in our sky and perihelion. But “brightest” is relative, as even at this point the object will likely require at least a decent set of binoculars to view. 15P/Finlay will become visible in the early morning hours and will travel from the constellation Aries to Taurus this month.
July 18: Pluto at Opposition
No, it’s not a credited planet. Yes, we still celebrate its opposition. This month, Pluto will be directly opposite the Sun in our sky, as well as at its perigee — closest point to Earth. It will be visible from around 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., but will require a decent telescope, and is still difficult to discern as anything more than a prick of light.
July 18: Asteroid 6 Hebe at Opposition
Asteroid 6 Hebe is a large asteroid in the Asteroid Belt, orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. July 18, when it reaches opposition, is one of the best times to view 6 Hebe, though the assistance of a telescope is required, if not a good pair of binoculars.
July 30: Asteroid 12 Victoria at Opposition
The “planets have aligned” rather similarly for 12 Victoria, another main-belt asteroid that reaches opposition this month. It will be visible for most of the night in the constellation Aquila, but also requires a telescope or binoculars to view.
BONUS: Check out the International Space Station or SpaceX’s Starlink satellites
Did you know you can see the orbits of the International Space Station (ISS) and some of SpaceX’s satellites in real-time?
For the ISS, visit NASA’s Spot the Station platform.
For Starlink, visit the Find Starlink platform.
Both are as easy as inputting your location and then the sites automatically populate the dates and times that the orbiters are visible for you.
In the News
Mars Methane Mystery May Be Starting to Clear Up (Space.com)
Some aspects of the Mars methane mystery are starting to clear up.
Since landing inside the Red Planet’s Gale Crater in 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover has repeatedly detected methane — a background level of less than 0.5 parts per billion (ppb) molecules of air, with some puzzling surges up to 20 ppb.
No public events this month. Stay home and stay well. (In case you missed it: Arkansas is having its first Dark-Sky Festival at the Buffalo River in October.)
If you’re still itching for more space this month, give Celestia and Stellarium a try between your opportunities stargazing in July. Both are free to use and provide unique and interactive experiences with the stars, planets and more.
The best stargazing results are always going to be under the darkest of skies. So, if you can, find a place as far away from city lights as possible when stargazing in July.