NASA is back with its top skywatching tips for the month ahead, offering up two particular treats to look out for.
First, July offers a good chance to get a decent view of Venus, Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor (in terms of closest approach).
Known as both “the Morning Star” and “the Evening Star” according to when it’s visible, Venus goes with the latter this month. You’ll spot it shining brightly low in the west about an hour after sunset, with the added bonus of Mars appearing faintly close by.
“In fact, you can watch each evening as Venus and Mars get closer, culminating with a close conjunction on July 12, when they’ll be only a finger’s width apart,” NASA says.
When you’re gazing at Venus, ponder for a moment that the planet is the focus of two recently announced NASA missions taking place toward the end of the decade, when VERITAS and DAVINCI+ spacecraft will analyze the planet’s surface and atmosphere in a bid to better understand why Venus became so inhospitably hot.
NASA notes that this month also offers an excellent opportunity to enjoy what it describes as “the magical sight” that is the Milky Way.
“This is our view of our spiral galaxy, seen edge on, from within,” NASA explains.
The space agency points out that while a portion of the Milky Way is viewable in the night sky year round, its bright, complex core can only be seen during certain months.
“Earlier in the season, you have to wait until the wee hours of the morning for the core to rise in the sky,” NASA says, “But in June and July, the core has already risen by the time it’s fully dark, and can be seen fairly well until around 2 a.m. when it starts to set.”
To get the best view of the Milky Way, you should head to a location with dark skies and minimal light pollution. In particular, disregard days when there’s a full moon — and the days close to it — as its brightness will overpower that of the Milky Way.
The green markings show the best days to view the Milky Way this month. NASA/JPL-Caltech
“The three or four nights around the new moon are best, but the week before and after is also OK — you just have to note when the moon will be rising or setting,” NASA advises. The calendar above reveals the best days to view the Milky Way in July.
For a full run down on everything to look out for in the sky this month, check out NASA’s detailed information page on its website.
And if you’re interested in trying to photograph some of what you see, Digital Trends has a handy guide offering advice on how to get the best shots.