Short version: Jupiter and Saturn peek over the horizon after sunset. Earth is closest to them this month. A nearly invisible lunar eclipse occurs the night of July 4/5. Mars gets closer each week. Crescent Venus is at it’s brightest low in the dawn sky. Mercury is in the morning sky later in the month, even lower than Venus.
The earlier time of sunset opens the curtain a bit wider on sights in the Summer sky. The first new players are Jupiter and Saturn. The pair rise around sunset and remain low in the southern sky all summer. They look like a set of mismatched eyes staring at you as they clear the horizon about 8:30pm local daylight time; 7:30 by the end of the month. Jupiter and Saturn are largest and brightest at opposition on the 14th (magnitude -2.8) and 20th (+0.1), respectively.
Tricks with Rings
Saturn’s rings show the ”opposition effect” and shine a bit brighter around the days when we line up between the Sun and Saturn on the 20th. How many of Saturn’s moons can you spot? Can you set a personal record for number of outer planet moons you can find – Saturn plus four from Jupiter? Iapetus brightens up south of Saturn by the last week of July. Even when my eyes can’t see the Cassini Division very well, I can see the A (outer) and B (inner) sets of rings have slightly different shadings of white and off-white. Large telescopes may afford a view of the thinner C ring, closer to the planet.
Guest Appearances by Comets?
The past few months, we’ve been eagerly awaiting great comets that turned into crumbs. What about July? Some other comets have been reported to be in the range of smaller telescopes. Have you seen them? The much-searched-for 2017 T2 PanSTARRS will stay well placed high in the evening sky. Use large aperture binoculars, or a wide field telescope, and test your skill at following directions.
2020 F3 NEOWISE sounds like a character in a computer science fiction movie. It’s bright now, but behind the Sun from Earth’s point of view. It was readily seen in the SOHO C3 field last week. Based on sky charts I’ve seen, it will be very low in the morning sky, in Auriga, just after its July 3rd perihelion. The best bet for seeing it will be mid-July in the evening sky as it fades through 4th magnitude. Get a finder chart and look for NEOWISE in binoculars. It’s closest to Earth on the 22nd, but not very close at 63 million miles away.
C/2019 U6 Lemmon is moving into sight for our latitudes in mid-July. It may have already peaked at 6th magnitude, but stay tuned for updates.
The Long Twilight Skies are Great for Seeing Satellites
The International Space Station is visible multiple times throughout the night (like it was back in May) from the 13th through the 18th. Hosting 3 to 6 astronauts, it’s visible in the morning sky through the 11th. Then, the ISS is visible in the evening for the rest of July.
If you haven’t seen a train of Starlink satellites moving across the sky, watch for a set after the next launch as they move toward their final, higher orbit where they will be much dimmer. Heavens-above.com gives train arrival times.
So Far Away
Celebrate the Fourth of July with the Earth at aphelion (its farthest point from the Sun) on Saturday morning.
A Very Faint Lunar Eclipse
The night of the 4th/5th, we’ll have a very light shading on the northern part of the Moon, darkest about 12:30am local daylight time. This penumbral eclipse of the Moon covers only one-third of the Moon. None of the darker umbral shadow we know so well will cross the Moon this time, as the Sun is only partially blocked from anywhere on the Moon.
November 30th’s penumbral lunar eclipse will have the entire penumbral shadow on the Moon, but also none of the umbra. Can we take umbrage at this state of affairs?
Lunar perigee is the night of the 24th/25th, when we’ll have a crescent Moon visible after sunset.
The Moon pairs up with Mars on the 11th and 12th. Mars looks like it’s hurtling toward Earth, getting noticeably larger each month. While it’s still as tiny as a lunar crater in the telescope, it’s time to start checking out the planet’s dusky markings. The South Pole is tilted toward Earth, where it’s late autumn.
Venus Sparkles Mercury Twinkles
Trailing far behind the other planets in the morning sky, Venus is brightest at magnitude -4.5 on the 8th. It’s a beautiful waxing crescent in a telescope, appearing smaller each week as it extends its lead from the Sun. The Moon won’t pass as close to Venus as it was last month, but they make a great pair on the 17th. Mercury is still kicking around (or being kicked around) among the legs of Gemini. The swiftest planet peeks into the morning sky for the last two weeks of the month.
Where is the Milky Way?
The band of thousands of stars in our galaxy arcs highest across the Summer night sky about 2am local daylight time.