July 2018

Welcome to Observing With Webb, where a high school astronomy teacher tells you what you’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what you should check out later this month…at night.  Don’t forget to check out my Podbean page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter feed, or get my podcast feed on Stitcher, or iTunes.

Mars at opposition, four planets at sunset, Venus shining bright, and a lunar eclipse for the other half of the globe. All these make July a pretty great month this year.

Naked-eye PLANETS...

  • Around Sunset – Mercury (W), Venus (W), Jupiter (S), Saturn (SE)
  • Throughout the night – Jupiter (SàW), Saturn (EàSW), Mars (SEàSSW)
  • Morning – Saturn (SW), Mars (SSW)



  • You might catch it about an hour after sunset, low in the West, down and to the right of Venus, but only the first two weeks of July.


  • Venus continues its beautiful apparition this month. Look West and find the brightest source of light in that direction, more than two fist-widths above the horizon, that lasts almost 2.5 hours before it sets. If you have a telescope, you can notice Venus getting bigger and less round throughout the month, almost to the point of looking like a half Moon.


  • July and August are the months for Mars! Why? Mars reaches opposition on the night of July 26th and is closest the Earth in its orbit on the 30-31st. Why? Because Earth is on the inside lane in the big race track of the solar system, and we’re lapping Mars.  This makes it bigger (in telescopes) than it usually is, becoming about as big as Saturn and Jupiter. If you want to get a good view of the surface of Mars, now is the time, as Mars will be half its size at opposition by October (you’ll need a telescope either way, don’t pay attention to memes saying Mars will be as big as the Full Moon). Mars rises in the SE around 11pm in the beginning of the month, and right around sunset at the end of the month. Look South-ish around midnight for the red point of light, or look SW around sunrise and find the red object about 30˚ above the horizon in Capricorn.


  • Up in the SSW around sunset and moves across the sky throughout the night, hanging out in Libra, setting right around 1am in the WSW.


  • Already up around sunset. Look about 25˚ above the SSE horizon in evening or low in the SW before 3am. Rings are close to maximum tilt.



Last Quarter Moon – 6th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

9th - Close EncounterVenus, Regulus – See something bright and close to Venus? That’s Regulus, Leo’s brightest star. Wait until about 9:30 or later to see the rest of the constellation

New Moon – 12th (darkest skies) 

14th – 15th - Close EncounterMoon, Mercury, Venus – If you have a very clear view of the horizon in the West, you can catch a VERY thin and dim crescent Moon only 1˚ from Mercury on the 14th. Binoculars are probably necessary.  The easier encounter will be the next night on the 15th, when the Moon will be about 2.5˚ to the right of Venus, with Regulus to the right of the Moon.

First Quarter Moon – 19th (Visible until midnight)

20th Close EncounterMoon, Jupiter – Find the Moon around sunset and you’ll also find Jupiter about 3.5˚ below. They’ll move across the sky together until they set in the West around 1am.

24th Close EncounterMoon, Saturn – Find the Moon after sunset and you’ll also find Saturn only 2˚below and to the left. A great chance to see two really bright objects right near each other.

26th–27th Close EncounterMoon, Mars, Eclipse (sort of) – Find the Moon after sunset and you’ll also find Mars about 10˚ down and to the left on 26th, and 7˚ down and to the right on the 27th.  Remember this is right around opposition and closest approach, so get out there with your telescopes! Also happening is a total lunar eclipse, but only those in Europe, Africa, and Asia. North America is on the opposite side of the Earth during the eclipse this time.

Full Moon – 27th (Visible all night)


CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

Just after Sunset (around 8:30pm) – Bootes, Corona Borealis, and Hercules.  Bootes is known as the shepherd, kite, or ice cream cone.  You can follow the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle to get to its brightest star Arcturus.   Hercules has an Extra Challenge! Look for M13, the Hercules Cluster in between two of Hercules’ “keystone” stars.  It known as the best globular cluster in the northern skies.  It will be a fuzzy spot in binoculars and will be even cooler through a telescope

Midnight – Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila (a little to the south) – These are the Summer constellations, and since they are visible right above us around midnight (and to the west after sunrise), it’s now summer!  More details below in the “General Constellation Finding Tips”  Extra Challenge! Look for M57, the Ring Nebula in between two of Lyra’s stars.  It is 2,300 light years away, which means we’re seeing what it looked like 2,300 years ago.  The shell that you see is the remnants of the central star that blew up some 20,000 years ago.  It has a donut-like appearance through a telescope.  It’ll be easy to find, but tough to see in binoculars, so get the scope out.

Early Morning – Pegasus, Andromeda


Summer Constellations: Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, Delphinus

Look to the east after sunset or straight up around midnight and you’ll be able to see Lyra (the Harp), Cygnus (the Swan), Aquila (the Eagle), (and Delphinus the Dolphin.)  These three constellations have the three brightest stars of the summer constellations (Vega, Deneb, Altair – respectively.)  Those bright stars create the summer triangle.  Off to the east of this is the small but beautiful constellation of Delphinus. 

Spring Constellations Bootes, Virgo, Leo, Corona Borealis, Hercules. 

First find the Big Dipper in the North (a North Circumpolar Asterism that never sets) and look at the handle.  Starting at the star closest to the “cup” part, follow the rest of the stars in the handle and follow the arc to Arcturus.  Arcturus is the brightest star in Bootes the Shepherd.  Some say he looks more like a kite, others say more like an ice cream cone. 

Then, following the same “arc”, speed on to Spica.  Spica is the brightest star in Virgo.  Virgo’s a dimmer constellation, so you’ll be rewarded when you find her. 

To the left of Bootes is Corona Borealis.  This is a small collection of stars that make a crown, cup, or U shape in the sky. 

To the left of Corona Borealis is the great constellation of Hercules.  Hercules is the Hero of the sky and has a central “keystone” asterism, in which lies M13, the Hercules Cluster. 

Lastly, Leo is a constellation consisting of a backward question mark (or sickle) and a right triangle to the left.  Use the two Big Dipper “cup” stars that are in the middle of the Big Dipper and follow the line they make to the bright star Regulus, the brightest star in Leo.

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.

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