Rest in the afternoon, so you can be beautiful and fresh to experience some divine stellar observations this month. It's not really dark enough until after 10:30, but it's wonderful when it finally gets dark.
It's an abundance of planets in the evening sky this month. From the later stages of dusk until midnight you will be able to see all five planets visible to the naked eye. Two of them also have close encounters with Earth this month.
Venus is by far the brightest of the planets and the brightest star-like object in the night sky. Before dusk, it's as bright as possible in the low western sky. At the moment, it's about 96 million miles from Earth, and as the month progresses, it will draw about 20 million miles closer to Earth as it circles around the Sun. Venus is not only bright because it's so close to Earth this month, but because the heavy mantle of cloud cover reflects a lot of sunlight. The clouds make Venus a less attractive target for your telescope, but what's cool? Venus goes through phases like our moon. This is because its orbit in our solar system is in orbit around the earth and the angle between the Sun, Earth and Venus is constantly changing. At present, Venus resembles an oval Gibbo moon. Later this month, it will shrink to a crescent shape.
As you look at Venus in early July, look to see Mercury a little to the right of Venus and closer to the horizon. It will not be nearly as bright. Like Venus, Mercury will be more or less half-moon shaped by a telescope. It also goes through phases. On July 14th, the new crescent will be parked exactly over Mercury, and on July 15, the Moon will have a spectacular heavenly hug with Venus. Do not miss that.
The second brightest "star" in the evening sky is Jupiter, which leaps high above the southern horizon from dusk. Even through a small telescope, you can easily see up to four of Jupiter's largest moons and perhaps some of Jupiter's lighter cloud bands.
At the lower southeastern sky this month, the planet Saturn near the constellations Scorpius is on the rise and Sagittarius. Saturn reached its closest approach to Earth last week, and it's wonderful to see the planet and its ring system through a telescope. I'll have a lot more on Saturn next week.
If you're really a night owl, look for Mars, which rises around midnight in the low east-southeastern sky. It is really bright and really red, and by the end of this month, it will reach its greatest approach to Earth in 15 years. As far as I'm concerned, it's the biggest night sky story of 2018. If you ever needed an excuse to buy a telescope, now is the time. Mars will be showing a show for most of September. Stay tuned for much more on Mars!
The brightest real star in the sky this month is Arcturus, the brightest star of the summer sky. At the end of twilight, Arcturus is high in the western sky at the end of a huge kite. This kite is more formally known as Constellation Bootes, the Hunting Farmer. Arcturus is a huge star, more than 22 million miles across and more than 36 light-years away, with a light year equivalent to about 6 trillion miles.
In the eastern sky you see the stars of summer on the rise. As we move through July, they will be a little higher at the beginning of each night as the earth orbits in their direction as it circles the sun. The best way to find your way around the summer stars is to find the "Summer Triangle," which consists of three bright stars that are the brightest in their respective constellations. You can not miss her. They are the brightest stars in the east.
The highest and brightest star is Vega, the bright star in a small faint constellation called Lyra the Harp. The second brightest star on the lower right is Altair, the brightest in Aquila, the eagle. Altair stands at the corner of a diamond that describes the span of the big bird. The third brightest on the left corner of the summer triangle is Deneb, a star that may be at least 1500 light-years away. It is also the brightest star in the tail of Cygnus the Swan. Cygnus is known as the "Northern Cross" because that's the way it looks. Deneb lies at the head of the northern cross, which lies on its side as it rises in the east.
In the northern sky, after the big wagon hanging from its handle in the northwest, along with the weaker little wagon stand at its grip. The moderately bright star Polaris, also known as the North Star, is at the bottom of the handle of the Little Car. Every single thing in the sky, including the sun and the moon, seems to spin around Polaris every 24 hours.
Enjoy the short but starry nights in July 2018!