Stargazing will be a late night activity for July since the days will be brighter and longer during the summer. It’s a great activity for those who love camping and get a clear night for it. The stars will be more visible around midnight, so we should start to see the constellations around then. Light pollution can be a bit of a problem for anyone who lives in bigger towns or cities, so being in the countryside can make a massive improvement. It is also handy to keep phones away so that your eyes can adjust to the dark, looking at your phone can undo the adjustment to the dark. 


The constellations of Ophiuchus and Scorpio marked with stick diagrams and translucent art of the figures overlaid

Ophiuchus and Scorpio. Image Credit: Stellarium.

The thirteenth zodiac constellation, forgotten or ignored, is Ophiuchus. It sits beside the constellation of Scorpius, and the Sun takes longer to go through Ophiuchus than Scorpius. While there are twelve better known Zodiac constellations, they were recorded thousands of years ago. Much has moved since then; Earth, The Sun and all the other stars are not still, everything is in motion. So now, we have a thirteenth constellation for the Zodiac. Ophiuchus is also known as the Serpent Bearer, which represents a physician who mixed a potion for immortality in ancient Greek mythology. The brightest star in this constellation is Rasalhague or Alpha Ophiuchus. It is the star that is highest in the sky from our perspective here in Armagh. This is one of the stars that were named in Arabic, and our modern names vaguely reflect the old names. This particular ‘star’ is also a binary star system with one star orbiting the other.

Scorpius, or Scorpio, is partially visible

Scorpio. Image Credit: Stellarium.

at the horizon through July, so getting somewhere dark with clear fields of view to the South is best. Being on hills, or generally elevated, would be helpful as well. The constellation will be below the horizon by the end of the month and never rises very high from our perspective here in Armagh. The brightest star in Scorpius is Antares. This name comes from the Greek, roughly meaning “opposing Ares” because it is a red star and another red object in the sky is Mars, named for the Roman equivalent of Ares, the god of War. 


From the third of month, we will see Jupiter rising in the East with the Moon and Mars, early in the morning around 3am to 4am. I know it’s very early, or late if you stay up, but at this time of the year we have fewer hours of darkness in the sky.  

Saturn will be visible from in more southern areas of the sky and considerably higher than Jupiter and Mars. Night by night they will all seem to shift across the stars behind them from east to west. 

With the right telescope it is possible to see the rings of Saturn or up to 4 of the moons of Jupiter known as the Galilean moons. The rings of Saturn are great to see, especially as they will be less visible next year when the orbit of Earth lines up “edge on” to the rings which are about 1 kilometre thick in some parts, and thinner in others. 

The planets will appear quite bright on clear nights, particularly Jupiter and Saturn. Mars will be notably red, hence the name “The Red Planet”, however there are more shades of orange and brown on its surface. If you are tracking the planets, or moon, with a telescope it is important to have the correct setup since they move at different speeds to the stars behind them. 

The Planets in the Night Sky. Image Credit: Stellarium.

Deep Sky Objects 

The Sagittarius Star Cloud. Image Credit: Stellarium.

This is the part where it would be useful to have binoculars or a telescope, having a camera setup can help capture some extra detail that our own eyes have trouble seeing. Deep Sky Objects includes a variety of types of objects from nebulae to clusters of stars. There are a number of lists and catalogues that they can belong to. Two that are commonly used are the Messier (M) list and the New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars (which is a mouthful so we will use “NGC”). Each list numbers their objects like ‘M123’ or ‘NGC123’, and while they are each a catalogue in their own right, they often share objects in common. 

The Sagittarius Star Cloud (M24) is faint and a little more than 10,000 lightyears away, and so is more visible with binoculars. These clusters are like crowds of stars in the sky, some are more visible at different parts of the year. Sagittarius doesn’t rise very high in the Armagh sky, so having a clear view to the south with no light pollution will make this cluster more straightforward to find in the southern sky. Behind this cluster is a spiral arm of the milky way, but this is incredibly faint from our perspective. As we look closer at Sagittarius, we are looking towards the centre of our galaxy as well. 

The Whirlpool Galaxy. Image Credit: Stellarium.

We can turn to another part of the sky for the next object. If you can find The Plough, a well-known asterism in the constellation of Ursa Major, you might find the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51, NGC5194). This galaxy is visible with the right telescope, or maybe even a camera, and it is a circumpolar object that never actually sets below the horizon.


The Moon 

The full moon this month occurs on the 21st of July. This one is known as the Buck Moon, a nod to those deer who start growing their antlers at this time of the year. Names like this can change depending on where you are in the world, and are often linked to what we see in the world around us. 

This full moon is auspicious, as it occurs on the day after the anniversary of Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the Moon, 55 years ago. Artemis 1, the first of a new set of moon missions, launched in 2022 (close to the 50th anniversary of Apollo 17). This was an uncrewed launch to test the systems before the Artemis 2 launch which has been pushed back until 2025. Artemis 2 will have a crew (already chosen), orbit the Moon and return to Earth, without landing on this occasion. 


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