What’s in the sky this July?
Constellations represent groupings of stars that have been given a name. For millennia they have been used as a tool to share significant cultural stories. Today, they also help astronomers delineate portions of the sky and are a navigational tool for locating astronomical objects. This July these constellations dominate the winter sky:
- Scorpius – Appearing high in the winter sky, Scorpius is one of the brightest and most easily identifiable constellations. Easily identified by its hooked tail and the red supergiant star Antares, Scorpius is the constellation that looks most like its namesake. In Greek Mythology, the scorpion plays a role in many myths, however it is best known for its pursuit of Orion through the night sky.
- Sagittarius – Sagittarius, also known as the archer, can be found 15 degrees to the right of Scorpius’s stinger. In Greek Mythology, the archer is a centaur, pointing his arrow towards the heart of Scorpius.
- Virgo – This giant constellation of the maiden can be most easily found by locating the constellation’s brightest star, Spica, on the opposite side of Scorpius’ claws along the ecliptic.
- Southern Cross and Pointer Stars – Throughout the month the Southern Cross is high in the southern sky beside the bright pointer stars Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri. The landmark of the southern sky, the constellation is situated near the south celestial pole.
- Centaurus – Surrounding the Southern Cross on three sides is the other centaur of the night sky, Centaurus. The pointer stars make up the front legs of the centaur. Centaurus is another large constellation including many deep space delights of the southern sky – including Alpha Centauri – a three-star system and the globular cluster Omega Centauri.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can all be seen in the early morning sky this month. Watch how the position of the planets changes throughout the month as they travel alongside the ecliptic, the path of the sun through the sky.
- Jupiter?– The king of planets appears this month is in the evening and morning sky. On 14 July Jupiter is in opposition (on the opposite side of the Earth to the Sun) and at its brightest for the year.
- Saturn – The ringed gas-giant?also appears in the evening and morning sky. On 21 July Saturn is in opposition (on the opposite side of the Earth to the Sun) and at its brightest for the year.
- Mercury?– The smallest planet is visible in the twilight sky. On 19 July a thin crescent Moon is to the left or north of Mercury.
- Venus?– Throughout the morning twilight, Venus is in the north-east in the constellation Taurus.
- Mars? – The red planet is in the north-west, visible in the morning twilight. Later this month, NASA launches the Perseverance Rover Mission to Mars to continue the search for extraterrestrial life.
For the monthly movements of the moon, check out our Moon Phase Calendar.
Explore the universe through the lens of your telescope and take in some of the gems of the July sky:
- Jewel Box Open Cluster – 7600 light-years away, within the Southern Cross constellation, the open star cluster of about 100 stars contains blue and red supergiants.
- Sombrero Galaxy – Also known as M104 from the Messier Catalogue. This galaxy is 28 million light-years away and is situated within the constellation Virgo.
- Alpha Centauri Star System – A star system consisting of three stars, Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B and the closest star to our sun, Proxima Centauri at 4.2 light-years away. Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star and is only visible through large telescopes. It is believed to be orbiting the first two stars.
- Omega Centauri Globular Cluster – One of about 150 globular clusters within the Milky Way. The largest cluster within the galaxy, Omega Centauri is 16,000 light-years away within the Centaurus constellation. It is approximated to have over 10 million stars.
- Purchase the 2020 Australiasian Sky Guide by Dr Nick Lomb, featuring an annual report of what’s in the sky and the latest astronomical findings. Produced by MAAS Media.
- Listen to the July Night Sky Podcast directly or on iTunes
- View the July Sky Chart, which shows the stars, constellations and planets visible in the night sky from anywhere in Australia
- Check out these resources for getting started