Welcome to the July night sky. This is the ideal month for sky-watching due to the warm dark nights.
Just after sunset this month, we have the opportunity to spot the elusive planet Mercury. This is the closest planet to the Sun and it never strays far away from its glare.
Mercury is not much bigger than our own Moon. It does not shine very brightly and is never seen in a truly dark sky. But if you look over towards the north-western horizon just after sunset during all of this month, you should catch a glimpse of Mercury appearing as a faint pink, star-like object. On the 25th it’s close to the bright star Regulus, the primary star in the constellation of Leo the Lion.
Looking towards the southern horizon during July evenings, we can see the grand zodiacal constellation of Scorpius. And just above the sting of Scorpius, at an altitude of 30 degrees, is the magnificent ringed planet Saturn. This planet is much lower in the sky as seen from northern Europe, but it is well worth a look through a small telescope as at the moment the rings are fully open and are an awesome sight.
The gas giant planet Jupiter is getting lower in the evening sky now over towards the western horizon, but through any telescope its noticeable oval shape and cloud belts are easy to see, along with its four large Moons that can be seen to change position from night to night.
July has only two notable meteor showers, both during the last week of the month. They are the Delta Aquarids and the Capricornids. The Capricornids are notable for their bright fireball-type meteors and they should peak during the last few nights of July.
To the left of the constellation of Scorpius, we have rising during July evenings the zodiacal constellation of Sagittarius. Now this star group contains the centre of our galaxy, so in this area we have the greatest number of faint stars of anywhere in the night sky.
Pluto happens to be in this constellation at the moment so it would be very difficult to find even with a large telescope.
The hypothetical Planet 9 (assuming Pluto doesn’t count as a planet) is most probably also to be found in this region of the sky, and as it would be much fainter than Pluto (if it exists), it would be almost impossible to find.
The moon is first quarter on the 1st, full on the 9th, last quarter on the 16th, new on the 23rd and first quarter again on July 30.
By Clive Jackson
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Clive Jackson is the Director of the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.
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To see the July Sky Map click on the pdf link below