A triplet highlights the short nights of July, formed by the planets Mars and Saturn and the star Antares. Under even moderately dark skies, all three show a bit of color. Mars and Antares are orange, while Saturn has a golden hue. Antares is the brightest star of Scorpius, one of summer’s best-known denizens. The scorpion’s hook-shaped body curls to the lower left of Antares, with teapot-shaped Sagittarius to the right of Scorpius. Under dark skies, the Milky Way rises from the teapot’s spout like steam.
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In the Sky This Month
July 2: Jupiter
Jupiter blazes in the west at nightfall. It is the brightest pinpoint of light in the night sky, so you can’t miss it. The giant planet is about 540 million miles away. At that distance, it takes 48 minutes for light from Jupiter to reach Earth.
July 3: Earth at Aphelion
The Sun blazes with all its fury as we head into the hottest time of year. But because of Earth’s lopsided orbit, we will be farthest from the Sun for the year tomorrow, about 1.5 million miles farther than the average distance of 93 million miles.
July 4: New Moon
The Moon is “new” today as it crosses the imaginary line between Earth and the Sun. It is lost in the Sun’s brilliant glare. It will return to view on Tuesday or Wednesday evening as a thin crescent, low in the west shortly after sunset.
July 5: Ariadne’s Crown
A semicircle of stars known as the northern crown stands almost directly overhead this evening. Its brightest star is Alphecca, an Arabic name that means “bright one of the dish.”
July 6: Quiet Sun
The Sun has been exceptionally quiet for most of this year, with few dark sunspots marking its surface. In fact, the number of sunspots peaked more than two years ago. It probably will bottom out in about three more years.
July 7: Moon and Regulus
Regulus, the star that marks the heart of Leo, the lion, is quite close to the upper right of the Moon at nightfall. The star is a good bit bigger, brighter, and heavier than the Sun.
July 8: Moon and Jupiter
Jupiter stands close to the upper left of the Moon at nightfall and shines like a brilliant star. With binoculars, you can pick out four of Jupiter’s moons, which look like tiny stars quite close to the planet.