Look Up At The Night Sky (July 2020)

Summer is a great time to be outside, even after the Sun goes down. As you enjoy the warmer nighttime weather, be sure to check out our list of celestial events you’ll be able to see during the month of July. Without a doubt, July 2020 will be one of the most exciting months for viewing the planets. Be sure to bookmark this page and refer to it all month long.

July Overview

This month, Jupiter and Saturn move in tandem across the sky and appear at their biggest and brightest all night long. Mars continues to increase in size and brightness as it approaches the Earth and is visible during the second half of the night.

jupiter libra

Meanwhile, the “predawn night-light” (Venus) blazes at its most dazzling while passing through the Hyades Star Cluster and vaults out of the dawn.

Mercury closes out the night, poking just above the east-northeast horizon far below Venus and just ahead of the rising sun during the last week of the month.

All times are listed as Eastern Daylight Time for the Northern Hemisphere.

Take note that we sometimes will use angular degrees to define the separation between two objects, such as (for example) the Moon and a bright planet. Keep in mind that the width of your clenched fist, held at arm’s length, measures roughly 10°.

July 4—The Earth is at the aphelion—its farthest from the Sun in its orbit for the year (94,507,635 miles)—at 7:35 a.m. We’re 3.3% farther from the Sun than we were at perihelion (its closest) in January. This makes for a difference in radiant heat received by our Earth of nearly 7%.

See the nearly-full Moon light up the sky for Independence Day.

July 5—Full Buck Moon turns 100% full at 12:44 a.m. In this phase, the visible Moon is fully illuminated by direct sunlight. Though the Moon is only technically in this phase for a few seconds, it is considered “full” for the entire day of the event and appears full for three days. See how this month’s Moon got its many names in our short video, below.

July 5—There will be a penumbral eclipse of the Moon. A non-event, since less than fourth-tenths of the Moon will slide through the southern edge of the Earth’s penumbra—not enough to create any kind of noticeable darkening on the Moon’s disk.

However, one thing that you certainly will notice late on Sunday evening are the two large planets flanking the Moon as it climbs in the southeast sky—Jupiter and Saturn.

Jupiter will sit a bit above and slightly to the right of the Moon. All month Jupiter beams like a brilliant silvery star. Although it rises around sunset, the best time to observe it is in the middle of the night, when it is highest in the south. Even through a pair of steadily-held binoculars the big planet’s disk appears impressively large at this closer-than-average opposition.

Saturn will be situated to the upper left of the Moon and down to Jupiter’s lower left. At the beginning of the month, it comes into view low in the southeast at dusk and is well above the horizon by about midnight local time, and by 10 p.m. at month’s end.

July 10—Venus reaches its great brilliance, known as “greatest illuminated extent.” It now outshines Sirius, the brightest star by nearly 21-fold, and more than six times brighter than Jupiter. It’s a spectacular sight for both naked-eye and telescope users during July, but you’ll need to set your alarms before sunrise to see it—at month’s start, this dazzling planet rises about 2 hours before sunup, but by month’s end look for it 3¼ hours before sunup. Telescopes show the disk of Venus shrinking in July as its phase thickens from 20% to 43% illuminated.

July 11-13—Venus is temporarily parked in the midst of the face of Taurus the Bull (the V formed by the orange 1st magnitude star Aldebaran and the giant Hyades star cluster). Venus is very near to Aldebaran these three mornings—a marvelous sight. But by the end of July, Venus has sped well away to the east of the star.

Look for Venus in the middle of the V-shape of stars in Taurus the Bull.

July 12 —At 1 a.m. local time look low toward the eastern horizon to see a slightly-more-than-half illuminated Moon with Mars sitting off to its upper right. Mars is getting ever nearer, brighter, and more imposing as it approaches “opposition” in early October. Currently burning like a fiery fleck of coal, Mars is 69.7 million miles away. By month’s end, it will have moved 9.8 million miles closer and will have brightened noticeably.

July 12—Last Quarter Moon at 7:39 p.m. In this phase, the Moon appears as a half Moon due to the direct sunlight; the illuminated part is decreasing toward the new Moon phase.

July 14 —Jupiter will reach opposition to the Sun; Earth will be between the Sun and Jupiter.

July 17—Facing due east about an hour before sunrise, look to see the Moon, the star Aldebaran, and a Venus form a stretched-out, inverted isosceles triangle.

July 20 —New Moon at 1:33 p.m. In this phase, the Moon is not illuminated by direct sunlight and is completely invisible to the naked eye.

July 20—Mercury, which passed inferior conjunction with the Sun on June 30th, climbs into a fine dawn apparition in the latter half of July. From now through month’s end, observers who go out a half hour before sunrise will find Mercury just above the east-northeast horizon. Bring binoculars. Mercury attains its greatest angular distance west of the Sun, on July 22nd. On that date it will appear as a 37%-illuminated crescent shining at magnitude +0.3. From July 22–27th, Mercury will stand far to the lower left of Venus and continue to slowly brighten. By August 4th Mercury will rise only an hour before the Sun, but shining twice as bright as it was on July 22nd, it should still be visible.

July 27—Saturn (visible in telescopes with magnifying 25 power or more) reaches opposition (Earth will be between Saturn and the Sun, placing the planet opposite the Sun in our sky as viewed from Earth) on its way to becoming an early-evening showpiece of late summer and early fall.

July 27—First Quarter Moon at 8:32 a.m. In this phase, the Moon looks like a half-Moon in the sky. One-half of the Moon is illuminated by direct sunlight while the illuminated part is increasing, on its way to becoming a full Moon.

July 28—Around this date, despite the fact that the Perseid meteors are becoming active, many of the “shooting stars” actually seen will belong to the Delta Aquarids which emanate from the faint stars of Aquarius the Water Carrier. The best time to watch for them will be after midnight, as the double radiant approaches the meridian. Perhaps 10 to 20 meteors will be seen each hour for several mornings around the 28th, with lesser numbers up to two weeks before and after.

By Farmers’ Almanac Astronomer Joe Rao. This calendar is adapted from “Skylog,” a regular feature appearing in Natural History magazine written by Mr. Rao since 1995. 

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