While fireworks will dominate the evening skies on the Fourth of July across the U.S., the rest of the month will feature visual spectacles of a different kind, from the full Thunder Moon to close encounters with other planets.
So set your alarm clock, have a blanket ready and check out some of July's celestial highlights below. Wishing you clear skies!
Saturn (all month)
Saturn can be seen in the lower right sky over Lake Roosevelt. (Photo: Rocky Raybell/Flickr)
July will be a big month for Saturn, which has been visible to us all year. For the first half of 2019, the sixth planet from the sun could be seen in the morning sky in the constellation Sagittarius, near the so-called Teapot pattern. But starting around July 9, when Saturn will be in opposition to the sun, it will be visible in the evening instead.
Grab your camera and hope for clear skies on the night of July 16-17, when the full moon will pass closely under Saturn. Saturn shines with a yellow-white hue in the sky, but you'll need a telescope to catch a glimpse of its famous rings. It'll be at its brightest until July 22.
Mercury (until July 11)
You may be able to see Mercury in the western sky about an hour after sunset until July 11. (Photo: György Soponyai/Flickr)
The planet closest to the sun will make an appearance in the evening sky from the start of the month until July 11. It usually has a white, yellow or pale brown hue. Look toward the western sky about an hour after the sun sets for your best viewing opportunity.
For the astrology buffs, Mercury will be in retrograde starting July 7, so plan accordingly. The Farmer's Almanac says to allow extra time when traveling and be prepared for miscommunications. (Sounds like good advice no matter what Mercury's doing.)
Mars (until July 18)
The red planet will be visible in the evening sky through July 18. (Photo: Tristan Chambers/Flickr)
So far this year, we've been able to see Mars in the night sky. But the red planet is moving away from Earth toward the sun, and it'll fade from view around July 18 before reappearing in the morning sky this fall. Look for the constellation Cancer, and you'll likely find Mars near the Beehive Cluster. You'll need binoculars or a telescope to see it against the glow of the setting sun at twilight.
New moon (July 2)
The Milky Way as seen through the Mobius Arch in Alabama Hills. (Photo: Kartik Ramanathan/Flickr)
This month's new moon on July 2 offers the perfect opportunity to grab the telescope and head out for dark, unencumbered views of galaxies, planets and other celestial sights.
Alpha Capricornids (July 3 through the month)
The Alpha Capricornids meteor shower starts July 3, peaks on July 30 and ends mid-August. According to the American Meteor Society:
This shower is not very strong and rarely produces in excess of five shower members per hour. What is notable about this shower is the number of bright fireballs produced during its activity period. This shower is seen equally well on either side of the equator.
Neptune (July 15 until end of month)
Neptune as seen through a telescope and magnified 200%. (Photo: Judy Schmidt/Flickr)
Neptune will be visible in the morning sky all month, and around July 15, it will be the brightest it has been all year. Still, with a magnitude of +7.8, you'll need binoculars or a telescope to see this blue-hued planet. Look toward the constellation Aquarius to find it.
Full Thunder Moon (July 16)
The Thunder Moon, also known as the Buck Moon and Hay Moon, will arrive on July 16. (Photo: Angus MacRae/Flickr)
With July being the stormiest month of the year for the Northern Hemisphere, it only makes sense that its full moon nickname would follow suit. For those lucky enough to have clear skies, the so-called Thunder Moon (frankly, the best moon nickname of the year) will make its trip across the evening sky on the morning of July 16.
In addition to its association with storms, this full moon has also been nicknamed the Buck Moon (for when deer begin growing their antlers), the Ripe Corn Moon and the Hay Moon. Europeans also called it the Meade Moon as it coincided with an uptick in honey harvest for making the delicious drink.
Perseid meteor shower (July 17 into August)
Earth hasn't missed a Perseid meteor shower in 2,000 years. (Photo: Tucker Hammerstrom/Flickr)
Along with that full moon comes the start of the annual Perseid meteor shower. The colorful meteors may be hard to see at first, but it'll get easier toward the end of the month and into early August at the peak. The parent of the Perseids is a 16-mile-wide comet named Swift-Tuttle, and they're called Perseids since they come from a part of the sky near the constellation Perseus.
Delta Aquarids meteor shower (July 27-28)
A precursor to the more popular Perseid meteor shower in August, the Delta Aquarids begin mid-July and peak around July 28. (That's a video of the meteor shower from 2014 above.) The meteors appear to originate just before the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer in the southern sky. In reality, they're debris from Comet 96P Machholz, a short-period sun-grazing comet that swings our way every five years. To catch the shower at its best, look up on the morning of the 27 or 28 between 2-3 a.m.
The return of the 'ghost of the summer dawn' (July 30)
Orion the Hunter (top right corner) and Jupiter rise over a forest just before dawn in this photo captured in September 2012. (Photo: Luis Argerich/Flickr)
Orion the Hunter is a distinctive constellation during the winter months thanks to the three bright stars, Mintaka, Alnitak and Alnilam, that make up its belt. (The best way to pick out Orion's belt in the busy photo above is to look for the three stars in a row on the sharp diagonal.) On July 30, this constellation will make its eastern return in the early morning hours, an event beautifully nicknamed "the ghost of the shimmering summer dawn."
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was first published in June 2017.