Check out NASA’s skywatching tips for July

For skywatchers, July is a special month that promises dazzling views of the Milky Way — but more on that later.

Planets at sunrise

First, the early mornings in July offer great views of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Venus is also visible, but only if you can see the horizon well, as the planet appears quite low.

“The planets are scattered across the morning sky, accompanied by bright stars, Capella, Aldebaran and Fomalhaut,” NASA stated in its monthly bulletin, adding that on July 20, you should also keep your eyes peeled for “the half-full, moon in the last quarter of an hour between Mars and Jupiter. And the next morning you’ll find the moon right next to Mars.”

NASA

To locate the planets and stars super fast, make sure you start one of many astronomy apps available for iOS and Android.

Dog days of summer

NASA also elaborates on the origin of the phrase “dog days of summer,” which is used to refer to the warm, balmy weather that occurs in the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year.

The phrase dates back to ancient times and is associated with Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

“At the height of summer, the sun is in the same part of the sky as Sirius, which the ancient Greeks and Romans associated with the dog-shaped constellation Canis Major, just as it is today,” explains NASA. “Sirius is the most prominent star and is sometimes referred to as ‘the dog star’.”

The constellation Canis Major.
NASA

In Ancient Greek, Sirius means “the scorching,” and both the Greeks and Romans thought that at that time of year the bright star magnified the solar heat, making it even hotter. This led to them calling this time of year the “dog days” (dies canicularis in Latin).

Since then, of course, we’ve learned that our sun is the only star that affects temperature here on Earth, with the tilt of our planet changing the temperature and ushering in different seasons over the 12-month cycle.

The Teapot and the Milky Way

Finally, July offers a great opportunity to marvel at the dazzling spectacle that is the Milky Way, a galaxy – our galaxy – that contains hundreds of billions of stars.

The Milky Way as seen from Earth.
NASA

“If you look south after sunset in July nights, you will see a sky full of bright stars,” NASA said of the Milky Way. “It is visible in the south once it gets completely dark. But even if you’re under urban skies that are too clear to observe the Milky Way’s core, the group of stars in Sagittarius known as the teapot will help you pinpoint its location in the sky.”

The teapot is a pattern of stars, which, as the name suggests, resembles the tea maker. What’s especially cool about the teapot is that it looks like the spout is “pouring out a cosmic cuppa,” as NASA puts it, with the stars of the Milky Way apparently emerging from the pot’s opening.

The video at the top of this page gives a detailed explanation of how to spot the teapot and the Milky Way. You can also check your favorite astronomy app for the same information.

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