On this month's guided tour of the night sky, you'll be torn between staying up late in the evening (to see Mars and Saturn) and getting up super early (Venus and Mercury).
Darkness might not last very long this month, but there's lots to see in the night sky tonight and every night during July! By playing or downloading this month's 6-minute audio tour, you'll get a great introduction to the stars and planets overhead during July.
Go out about 45 minutes before sunrise, and you’ll find Venus dazzling and impressive above the eastern horizon. To see fleet-footed Mercury, look around July 12th, when the innermost planet is most widely separated from the Sun. Mercury can be hard to spot, but you’ll find Mercury a bit less than one outstretched fist to the lower left of Venus.
In the evening sky, July begins with the Moon is already in view as a thin, beautiful crescent low in the west. Look closely, and you might see more than just that delicate swoosh of the crescent. Can you make out the entire lunar disk, including the portion hidden in shadow? That ghostly glow is called earthshine.
As evening twilight deepens, sweep your eye to the upper left of the sunset point, and soon you’ll run into a striking pair: bright, peachy-colored Mars and the icy white star Spica. The Moon makes a dramatically close brush with Mars on the evening of July 5th, when it skirts just below the Red Planet. In fact, it actually covers it from parts of South America.
Let your gaze drift farther left, and you’ll soon spot the planet Saturn. Two nights after skirting past Mars, the Moon has a close brush with Saturn.
Shift your gaze to the lower left of Saturn, and there you’ll find the stars of Scorpius. This is one of those constellations that really looks a lot like its namesake.Download the podcast here.
And there's even more great skywatching advice in the July issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.