Thursday, July 12, 2012

Adirondack Astronomy: The Night Sky in July

Here are some objects for the unaided eye for the month of July. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your unaided eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. If you aren’t in a dark sky location you may still be able to see these objects with a pair of binoculars or telescope.

You can find help locating the night sky objects listed below by using one of the free sky charts at (scroll down to Northern Hemisphere Edition and click on the PDF for July 2012). The map shows what is in the sky in July at 10 pm for early July; 9 pm for late July.

If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better!

<i>Note: Measuring Degrees with your hands, proportionally works for people of all ages. With your arm fully extended out:</i>

Width of your pinky finger is 1°

Width of your ring, middle, and index finger equals 5°

Width of your fist equals 10°

Width from tip to tip of index finger and pinky finger stretched out equals 15°

Width from tip to tip of your thumb and pinky finger stretched out equals 25°
The Moon

July 14 – The moon passes 0.5° north of Jupiter can be seen early in the morning.

July 15 – The moon passes 4° north of Venus can be seen early in the morning. Also early in the morning you can see the Waning Crescent Moon between both Venus and Jupiter in the Eastern sky.

July 19 – New Moon, best time to get out and enjoy the stars, and learn some constellations if you haven’t already.

July 24 – The moon passes 4° south of Mars

July 25 – The moon passes 1.2° south of the star Spica in Virgo, and is 6° south of Saturn.

July 26 – First quarter moon


For the first half of July Mercury will shine in the western sky after sunset. It reached it’s greatest elongation on June 30th, but remains high in the sky for the first week of July until it starts to get lower to the horizon. It goes from a 0.4 magnitude to a magnitude of 1 after the first week in July. By mid July, Mercury will disappear in the suns glare.

Venus and Jupiter

In the predawn skies Venus and Jupiter will be 4.8° apart in the Eastern sky with the bright open cluster, Pleiades and the Hyades cluster nearby. This gathering all begins around 2:30am as the Pleiades rises in the East, and 40 minutes later bright gas giant, Jupiter rises, and another 30 minutes Venus starts to appear along the horizon.

Venus will be within the Hyades cluster in the constellation Taurus near the brightest star of the constellation, Aldebaran.

The two planets will move apart as the month of July continues with Venus lingering lower to the horizon, while Jupiter climbs higher and higher as the days go on.


Although Mars is still above the horizon it is getting ever closer to setting. Because of Mars’ close proximity to Earth, it seems to be moving backwards in it’s direction in the sky, and will remain above the horizon until near midnight around mid month.


Saturn is also still in the skies this month towards the southwest after sunset, and setting around midnight. Saturn can be found in the constellation Virgo near the brightest star of the constellation, Spica.
Photo Above: 94% Waning Gibbous Moon by, Michael Rector.

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Although he now lives in Clinton County, amateur astronomer Michael Rector has fond memories of spending time at Great Sacandaga and West Canada Lake where the skies are dark and the Milky Way is bright.

Michael writes about astronomy on his own blog Adirondack Astronomy and is interested in getting together with other star-gazers around the region. If you are interested in getting together for an occasional star party feel free to contact him at

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