From 2018 through 2022, NASA is marking a series of scientific and technological milestones – the 60th anniversary of the agency’s founding in 1958, and the 50th anniversary of the Apollo missions that put a dozen Americans on the Moon between July 1969 and December 1972. The Bell has been celebrating the Year of Apollo, too—both commemorating the past and looking forward to a promising new era of inspiration, innovation, and discovery.
Saturday, July 20, is the official anniversary of the first manned spacecraft landing on our nearest cosmic neighbor: Earth’s Moon. From 10 am–5 pm on July 20, we are hosting a fun-filled Apollo 50 celebration with events inside and out, an array of Moon-related activities, and back to back screening of our new original planetarium production One Giant Leap! If you’re game to walk, run or stroll in a space race, there is still time to register for our Cosmic 5K fundraiser that begins at 8am that morning.
Did you know? All the Apollo landings were done during a first quarter Moon phase, because they needed to land when the light was at the right angle. You can see the first quarter/waxing crescent phase on July 9. (More on lunar phases below!)
The two largest planets in our solar system will grace the evening sky throughout the summer. Jupiter and Saturn gleam above the southern horizon by 10 pm—be sure to catch their dance with Moon from July 12–15!
Jupiter can be found as a bright, nontwinkling point of light around the twinkling stars of Ophiuchus and Scorpius. Start by finding the red star Antares at the heart of the scorpion, then move 15 degrees upwards towards the bright star Sabik at the bottom of Ophiuchus. This is approximately the distance between your index finger and little finger. In between these two stars look for a brighter point of light—if it isn’t moving or twinkling, you’ve found Jupiter!
Saturn can be found near the brightest stars in the constellation of Sagittarius. Look for the eight stars that make up the Teapot, part of Sagittarius. Start at the handle and look three finger-widths to the east for another bright, nontwinkling point of light. Saturn is fainter than Jupiter, but should still be brighter than any of the surrounding stars.
If you’re not sure if you’ve found either of them, try looking again with binoculars. Both planets will be bright circles in the sky and look very different from any stars you focus on. Saturn might even look like a stretched out oval… a clear sign you’re seeing the famous rings! Saturn will be at opposition on July 9 when the Earth is directly between Saturn and the Sun. This will make Saturn appear a little brighter and it will be visible in the sky all night long. Observing around the time of opposition is a great way to see Saturn, its rings, and its moons for as long as possible, but any time you see it makes for a good night.
Check out the Summer Triangle asterism around 11 pm. To find this huge imaginary triangle, begin with Vega, the bright star nearly overhead in the constellation of Lyra the Harp. Let your gaze drift about 35 degrees below Vega to the southeast to another bright star, Altair in Aquila the Eagle. Again from Vega, look about 25 degrees to the northeast to find the third star of the triangle, Deneb in Cygnus the Swan.
From July 17–August 24, we will once again be rewarded with one of the most prolific meteor showers. Although the waxing Moon will wash out the sky during the last two weeks, the Perseids have many bright meteors—so get outside every time you have a chance! For best viewing, find the darkest skies you can, look up, and wait.
You can increase your chances of seeing meteors by traveling away from city lights, waiting until it is very dark—several hours after sunset or before sunrise—and sitting in a chair (don’t strain your neck!).
And for the early birds (3–5 am), the skies throw in the Delta Aquarid meteor shower. These meteors are often faint so you will need dark skies away from city lights. Watch for them a few mornings on either side of the peak on July 30. Peak rates can be as high as 25 meteors per hour in dark skies.
Use our Minnesota Skies sky map to help guide your summer sky watching!
July 2—New Moon
The Moon is located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun
and is not visible in the night sky. This is the best time of the
month to observe faint objects like galaxies and star clusters
because there is no moonlight to interfere.
July 9—First Quarter Moon
The Moon is one quarter of its way through its orbit around
the Earth, which makes half the Moon illuminated and half
dark from our perspective.
July 16—Full Moon
The Moon is located on the opposite side of the Earth as the
Sun and the side we see is fully illuminated.
July 24—Last Quarter Moon
This phase occurs when the Moon is three-quarters of the
way through its orbit around the Earth.
July 31—New Moon
Here we go again!
Deep sky objects
The Milky Way
Observing method: Naked eye, binoculars, telescope
Get away from city lights and spend a few hours under dark skies, tracing the line of our galactic home in the sky.
Despite the short nights, summer is the best time for viewing the Milky Way. You can find the bright core to the south between Scorpius and Sagittarius and then move upward along the long neck of Cygnus, past the royal Cepheus and through vain Cassiopeia, finally ending to the north at the heroic Perseus.
Follow up this naked-eye observation with binoculars or a telescope and you’ll find a variety of named objects including open star clusters (M11, M22, Double Cluster), planetary nebulas (M27, M57), dark nebulas (where cool galactic gas and dust blocks light) and even a few (million) stars.