The solar system’s largest planets put in large appearances this month. Jupiter, the biggest of them all, was at opposition last month, so it’s still in view most of the night and still shining brilliantly, making it an especially easy target. Saturn, which ranks just behind Jupiter, is at opposition this month, so it, too, is a large presence in the night sky. Its rings are tilted at a fairly open angle, so their reflected sunlight adds to Saturn’s overall brightness.
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In the Sky This Month
July 18: Summer Triangle
The Summer Triangle highlights the eastern sky as darkness falls. The triangle's brightest star, Vega, stands highest in the sky. Deneb marks the lower left corner of the triangle, with Altair at the lower right.
July 19: Zodiac
Several constellations of the zodiac stretch across the southern sky at nightfall. Leo nose dives toward the western horizon, Virgo stretches to its upper left, Scorpius is due south, and Sagittarius is climbing in the southeast.
July 20: Touchdown!
The first astronauts landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969. And this year the Moon is at its greatest separation from Earth for the month on the 50th anniversary of that date, roughly 13,000 miles farther than the average distance of 239,000 miles.
July 21: 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.
July 22: Starry Sky
When darkness falls tonight the sky will come alive with stars: the Summer Triangle up in the east, the scorpion low in the south, and the stars of spring sliding from view in the west.
July 23: Outcast Stars
The Big Dipper is in the northwest this evening, with the handle above the bowl. The five stars in the middle of the dipper are all related, but the stars at the tip of the handle and lip of the bowl move through the galaxy independently of the others.
July 24: Last-Quarter Moon
The Moon reaches last quarter at 8:18 p.m. CDT. It lines up at a right angle to the line between Earth and Sun, so sunlight illuminates exactly half of the lunar hemisphere that faces our way.