In a dark July night sky you can hardly miss Vega, Altair, and Deneb, the three bright stars of the Summer Triangle – fully up and dominating the northeast and east. What else is there to see on a summer night?

Although it doesn’t get dark until late, this time of year has advantages for observing. For starters you don’t have to wrap up until you nearly choke. You can coax friends outside to view some of the delights on offer in the night sky as it is a pleasant experience. Nobody wants to stand in the freezing cold and look at the sky but a balmy summer’s night is another matter. You might even sow the seed for a lifelong hobby.

Continue to keep a lookout for nocilucent clouds this month (see June night sky) and in case you are not lucky enough to see this spectacular phenomena take a look at some beautiful images taken by Dr Andy McCrea at the Irish Astronomical Association’s website.

There are two New Moons this month, the first was on the 1July and the second is on the 31 July.  The planet famine is coming to an end as some favourites are making a comeback. If you are coming home in the early hours look out for Jupiter which is visible in the east from 3am.  Mars, in Taurus, peeps over the horizon in the north east just before dawn. Saturn is still visible in the west just after sunset. Neptune and Uranus are also hanging in there but not visible to the naked eye observer.

image of Pegasus

Pegasus is clearly seen in the East just after sunset. Note Cassiopeia higher in the sky in the north east. (Image credit Mary Bulman)

The stars of autumn are already beginning to appear with Pegasus and Andromeda above the horizon in the east while constant Cassiopeia is shinning brightly in the north-east.  Blue white Vega, of Summer Triangle fame, and the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra, the Harp, is almost at the zenith this month.

Cast your eye east (left) from Vega and you will come to Deneb, also of Summer Triangle fame, the brightest star in Cygnus the Swan. Deneb represents the tail of the giant celestial bird flying across the sky. Once you pick out its shape it’s quite an impressive sight. It is distinctly cruciform in shape, gaining it the title of the Northern Cross, and unlike its famous cousin in the southern hemisphere, Crux (the Southern Cross), which is a small constellation, it is quite large, Albireo marks the foot of the cross, or head of the Swan (whichever takes your fancy) and is one of the most striking double stars in the sky. Viewed through a small telescope it is possible to identify a beautiful yellow primary star and a fainter blue companion.

Image of sagittarius

Looking south the asterism of the Teapot can clearly be seen as part of Sagittarius. (Image credit: Mary Bulman)

If you have a clear dark sky and an unobstructed horizon to the south you should be able to pick out a group of stars that resemble a teapot. The teapot asterism is part of the constellation of Sagittarius, the Archer. Sagittarius dates back to Babylonian times. Pabilsaĝ, as they knew him was their god of war, and like Centaurus, he is a half man, half beast creature although in his case he was part-man and part bull. Some legends say that the more kindly Grecian semi-equine was placed in the heavens to guide the Argonauts in their travels.

Image of Laser_Towards_Milky_Ways_Centre

Zapping the Galactic Core: This image taken at ESO’s Paranal Observatory shows a laser beam crossing the southern sky to create an artificial star at an altitude of 90 km high in the Earth’s mesosphere. The Laser Guide Star (LGS) is part of an adaptive optics system and is used as a reference to correct the blurring effect of the atmosphere on images. Using this technique, astronomers can obtain sharper observations. (Image credit: ESO/Yuri Beletsky)

Once you locate the ‘teapot’ notice the misty background. That is the centre of our Milky Way galaxy (28 000 light years away).  Dark skies are essential to see the Milky Way in all its glory. On July nights it can be seen stretching across the heavens from its core in Sagittarius, over our heads through Aquila and Cygnus and continuing on through Cassiopeia to the northern horizon. Given good conditions a dark bar, known as the Great Rift in Cygnus, can be seen running along its centre. This giant rift is caused by interstellar dust which blocks starlight from beyond.

The constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpius beside it lie in the thickest part of the Milky Way and are packed with riches for binoculars or small telescopes. These riches include dozens of star clusters, globular clusters, nebulae and double stars.

There are lots to see with the naked eye but to see the hidden beauty of the heavens you will need your binoculars or telescope. So relax on a balmy July night and enjoy the riches of the night sky.

Image of Mary Bulman

Mary Bulman, Education Support Officer

(Article by Mary Bulman)



Tony · June 23, 2014 at 13:16

I live in North Down and have been tring to see the Milky Way with my partner for a few months now, without success. I’ve tried the Newtownards Peninsula (away from towns like Ballywalter), and Lough Neagh nearist Antrim, aiming for low moon and away from light sources.

I have seen it in Newcastle (Co. Down) before, but this was maybe over 25 years ago.

Is there any condition news for Armagh? Have you any recommendations or best dates?

    admin · June 23, 2014 at 16:36

    Dear Tony, I’m sorry to hear that you are having problems seeing the Milky Way, it ought to be visible anywhere even a few miles out of town. Try looking south after midnight tonight, the Milky Way ought to be clearly visible as a faint pale band of light running eastward up the sky. It won’t be as spectacular as it appears in photos (they’re made with prolonged exposures) but it’s still a great sight.

Mary · July 25, 2011 at 15:31

Thanks for kind comments and great advice Paul.

Paul Evans · July 21, 2011 at 15:33

Very nice article Mary. It’s worth pointing out, as this is the holiday season, that folk taking their holidays at more southerly latitudes – the Mediterranean, Canary Islands etc – will get a much better view of the Milky Way than we get from here in Northern Ireland. Saggitarius and Scorpio particularly look fantastic from lower latitudes and the galactic centre is a spectacular sight!

So to all holidaymakers, take a pair of binoculars and also try pointing the camera upwards on a tripod with long exposures during those warm summer nights on your holidays!


Carnival of Space #206 | ZME Science · July 15, 2011 at 20:20

[…] a dark July night sky you can hardly miss Vega, Altair, and Deneb, the three bright stars of the Summer Triangle – fully up and dominating the northeast and east. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.