This is an especially good month for conjunctions between the Moon and bright stars and planets. The Moon splits the gap between Mars and Spica on the night of the 5th, huddles close to Saturn a couple of nights later, then goes eye-to-eye with Aldebaran late in the month. As the Moon’s journey plays out, the summer constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius climb into good view in the southern sky. On moonless nights, the subtle glow of the Milky Way extends upward from these constellations, providing a breathtaking view for those who can escape the glow of city lights.
This Week's Stargazing Tips
July 26: New Moon
The Moon is new today, so it is lost from sight as it crosses between Earth and the Sun. It will return to view in a couple of nights as a thin crescent shortly after sunset.
July 27: Hercules Cluster
The star cluster M13, in the constellation Hercules, is high overhead as darkness falls. This family of hundreds of thousands of stars is visible to the unaided eye as a smudge of light. Binoculars hint at its glory, as dozens of stars pop into view.
July 28: Sagittarius Nurseries
Teapot-shaped Sagittarius is low in the south-southeast as darkness falls. With binoculars, look just above its spout for two stellar nurseries, known as M8 and M20. They look like fuzzy patches of light. New stars are taking shape in these regions.
July 29: Dark Center
The center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is in Sagittarius, which scoots low across the south on summer nights. We can’t see the center with our eyes because it is hidden behind clouds of dust. It takes special instruments to peer through the dust.
July 30: Subtle Glow
The glowing band of the Milky Way arches high across the sky on summer nights. At nightfall, it stretches from almost due north, high across the east, to almost due south. It stands directly overhead by midnight. You must avoid city lights to see it.
July 31: Dog Days
Mid-summer is called the Dog Days because the “dog star,” Sirius, appears near the Sun. Since Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky, ancient skywatchers associated it with especially hot days.
Check last week's tips if you missed a day.