July is an especially busy month for night sky watchers and astronomers alike.
Anyone who stayed up after the fireworks on the Fourth of July may have noticed the penumbral lunar eclipse that night. As we move through the rest of the month, there will be plenty of other celestial events to view, including the chance to see a couple of planets up close and a double meteor shower.
Our solar system’s two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, will be extra bright in the sky about halfway through the month. This is because both planets reach their opposition then — the point in their orbits when they’re closest to the Earth.
Jupiter will be closest to Earth on July 14, and less than a week later, Saturn will reach its opposition on July 20. A telescope would certainly help observers see the gas giants more clearly, but onlookers can still spot the planets without one.
Simply look to the south, and the planets will be shining more brightly than any other star in the sky.
After Jupiter and Saturn have spun farther from Earth, all of us will have a chance to see two different meteor showers at their peak.
The Southern Delta Aquariid shower will be active from July 12 to August 23, 2020, and the Alpha Capricornids is active from July 3 to August 15.
Both meteor showers are expected to hit their peaks on the night of July 28, 2020. By then, the moon should be no more than a sliver, making for a dark backdrop to see anything streaking across the night sky.
The Alpha Capricornids shower will be easier to spot since the Delta Aquariid shower favors the Southern Hemisphere.
Regardless, observers in the Northern Hemisphere should be able to spot 10 to 20 meteors an hour from both showers. For your best chance at spotting some of these “shooting stars,” simply look to the south and southeast between midnight and the pre-dawn hours near the end of the month.
Besides fireworks at the start of the month, there are plenty of opportunities for watchful eyes to spot something incredible in the night sky in July.