Discover July’s Night Sky: Milky Way Marvels, Shooting Stars, and Rare Celestial Events

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on July 1, 2024 08:30
Discover July’s Night Sky Milky Way Marvels, Shooting Stars, And Rare Celestial Events

July 2024 offers a spectacular array of celestial events for stargazers, from the breathtaking sight of the Milky Way to a rare occultation of the star Spica by the moon. Here’s a detailed guide to help you make the most of July’s night sky.

Crescent Moon Above mars

On July 1, early risers will have the opportunity to witness a beautiful conjunction of the crescent moon and Mars. Mars will rise from the east-northeast around 2:00 a.m. local time, and by 4:45 a.m., a thin crescent moon will be visible just above the Red Planet.

According to the Adler Planetarium, Mars will be slightly brighter than 1st-magnitude in July and will gradually get brighter through the end of the year. This early morning celestial pairing provides a stunning visual contrast between the moon’s soft glow and Mars’ reddish hue.

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Crescent Moon Above Mars

Earth at Aphelion

On July 5, Earth will reach its aphelion, the farthest point from the sun in its elliptical orbit. During aphelion, Earth will be about 94,510,538 miles away from the sun, which is approximately 3 million miles farther than during perihelion in January.

Although this event has no significant effect on Earth’s climate, as our seasons are dictated by the tilt of Earth’s axis, it highlights the fascinating dynamics of our planet’s orbit. Despite the greater distance from the sun, July is characterized by hot summer weather in the northern hemisphere due to the axial tilt.

Earth Aphelion

A Beautiful Crescent Moon

From July 6 to 9, look to the west after sunset to witness a beautiful crescent moon. On July 6, the moon will be just 1%-lit, making it challenging to see without binoculars. By July 7, Mercury will be visible just above the moon, offering a unique conjunction.

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Additionally, from July 7 to 9, observers will see “Earthshine” or “planet-shine” on the moon’s darkened side, caused by sunlight reflected off Earth’s oceans and ice caps back onto the lunar surface. This phenomenon creates a ghostly glow on the unlit portion of the moon, enhancing its beauty.

A Beautiful Crescent Moon

The Milky Way

July and August are prime months for viewing the Milky Way from the northern hemisphere, and the first week of July offers an ideal opportunity. During this time, the Milky Way will be brightest in the southeastern sky after sunset.

For the best view, choose a 10-day window within these months when the moon is down and be away from light pollution. The galactic core of the Milky Way will be visible, providing a stunning display of cosmic wonder.

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The Milky Way

Spica Occulted by the Moon

One of the brightest stars in the summer night sky, Spica in Virgo, will be occulted (eclipsed) by the moon in one of 2024’s rarest sky events for North and Central America. On the night of July 13-14, a First Quarter Moon will eclipse Spica.

This event will be visible as follows: in the Eastern U.S. states, the disappearance of Spica will occur at 11:30 p.m. EDT; the full occultation will be visible in the Midwest U.S. states at 10:00 p.m. CDT; and in the Northwestern U.S. states, the reappearance will be visible at 9:00 p.m. MDT. This rare celestial alignment offers a chance to see the bright star disappear and reappear behind the moon, a spectacle not to be missed.

Occultation Of Spica

A Full ‘Thunder Moon’ Rises

The seventh full moon of 2024, known as the Thunder Moon, will be fully illuminated by the sun on July 21. For the best view, look towards the eastern horizon on the evenings of July 20 and 21. The moon will rise just after sunset, creating a stunning display as it ascends into the sky.

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This full moon is named for the frequent thunderstorms that occur during this time of year. Using binoculars will provide a spectacular close-up of the moon as it rises, showcasing its detailed surface features and enhancing the viewing experience.

Full Thunder Moon

Moon Meets the ‘Ringed Planet’

On July 23 and 24, a notable moon-planet conjunction will be visible in the western sky just after dark. On July 23, a waning gibbous moon will be seen with Saturn to its lower left. On July 24, a slightly smaller moon will hang to the lower left of Saturn.

This conjunction provides an excellent opportunity to observe Saturn’s rings through a telescope, as the moon and Saturn will be close enough to fit within the same field of view. In parts of Asia and Africa, the moon will occult (block) Saturn for a few hours on July 24, adding an extra element of intrigue for observers in those regions.

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Moon Meets The 'ringed Planet'

Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower

The Delta Aquariids meteor shower peaks on July 31, with an expected 10-20 shooting stars visible per hour in dark, moonless skies from midnight to 2:00 a.m. This meteor shower is caused by dust and debris from the 96P/Machholz Complex.

The best viewing conditions will be in southern U.S. states, away from city lights. Observers should look towards the constellation Aquarius, from where the meteors appear to radiate. The Delta Aquariids provide a steady stream of meteors that are best viewed in the early morning hours, offering a peaceful and mesmerizing celestial show.

Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower

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An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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