The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower promises to add some glitter to the night sky in July, with as many as 25 meteors per hour during its peak.
The night skies will also showcase two of the largest planets in the solar system this month, while early mornings offers superb views of Earth’s neighboring planet, Venus, as it pairs up with the moon and a star that marks a cosmic bull’s eye.
So dust off those binoculars, and mark your July calendar!
Jupiter and Moon — July 1
Look for the waxing gibbous moon as it passes very close to the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter, and the star Spica. The cosmic trio will form an eye-catching triangular formation, making for a dramatic display as they rise over the southeast horizon in the early evening.
Venus Passes Pleiades — July 5
Very early morning, before any hint of daybreak, look for the bright “morning star” Venus in the east to guide you to the nearby Pleiades star cluster. The cosmic pair of planet and stars will be seven degrees apart—less than the width of your fist held at arm’s length. The 300 light-year distant stellar grouping is a staple of winter-evening stargazing, but now is an easy target for early risers with binoculars, thanks to Venus, the goddess of love, pointing the way.
Saturn and Moon — July 6
After darkness falls, look southeast for the waxing gibbous moon pairing up with the ringed world Saturn. To the naked eye the gas giant looks like a bright yellow-tinged star; however, through even the smallest of backyard telescopes, it shows off its famous rings easily.
Having just made its closest pass to Earth less than a month ago, Saturn will still appear impressively big and bright through the eyepiece. A telescope will also easily reveal the Cassini Division, a large 3,000-mile-wide dark gap in the rings, and a few of Saturn’s largest moons floating nearby.
Venus and Aldebaran — July 14
At dawn, the brightest celestial object visible rising in the east is the planet Venus. Commonly referred to as the “morning star,” the second planet from the sun is currently the brightest celestial object in the morning skies—other than the moon and sun.
Venus is even more eye-catching than usual this week as it makes a close swing past the orange-hued star Aldebaran. This giant star, which marks the eye of the mythical Taurus, the bull constellation, appears less than three degrees from Venus. This apparent proximity is only an optical illusion, however. While our sister planet is a mere 152 million kilometers (94.5 million miles) from Earth, Aldebaran is 65 light-years distant.
It’s interesting to note that the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, launched back in 1972, is currently 17.9 billion kilometers away and is making its way in the direction of Aldebaran. It should reach the star’s vicinity in about two million years.
Venus and Moon — July 20
The brilliant second planet from the sun, Venus, has the waning crescent moon as a companion in the dawn skies today. The cosmic duo should make for a stunning photo opportunity near the horizon.
Venus and Crab Nebula — July 26
Venus passes just south of the brightest supernova remnant in our skies, the Crab Nebula (Messier 1) located 6,300 light-years away. The odd celestial pair will be separated by no more than one degree—equal to the width of two lunar disks side by side. You can spot this expanding cloud of debris left behind by an exploding star using binoculars under dark countryside skies—though it will be a challenge—or with a backyard telescope in suburban skies.
Jupiter and Moon (Act II) — July 28
For a second time this month, Earth’s moon glides by Jupiter in the evening sky. So if you missed it on July 1, this is your chance.
Meteors Sprinkle — July 30
Keep an eye out for shooting stars from the Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaking in the early hours before dawn. With its famed cousin, the Perseid meteor shower, potentially being washed out by the moon in mid-August, this shower may actually be a better bet for skywatchers.
With the first quarter moon setting soon after local midnight, this sky show should peak in the early mornings under ideal dark skies. The first Aquarid meteors will actually begin flying as early as July 20 and will continue to ramp up in activity, reaching about 25 meteors per hour on July 30. Sporadic meteors from the Aquarid stream will continue until it trickles out in August by mid-month.
Individual meteors from this shower can be traced back to their radiant, which is their namesake constellation Aquarius, the water bearer, seen very low in the southern skies across mid-northern latitudes. The best views will be for meteor watchers located near the equator and in the Southern Hemisphere.