The month celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere for BBQs, maturing gardens and crops, and moments spent relaxing in the hammock or kicking back on the beach is finally upon us. 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 a dark sky meteor shower.
So set your alarm clock, have a blanket ready and check out some of July's celestial highlights below. Wishing you clear skies!
Venus rules the morning sky (All month)
The waning crescent moon and Venus as captured by the Paranal Observatory in Chile on May 30, 2017. (Photo: European Southern Observatory/flickr
Venus, the queen of planets, will rule the early morning hours of July –– with a visual brightness approaching minus 4 magnitude. The closest planet to Earth, Venus glows brightly due to both its proximity and the fact that its atmosphere is composed of thick clouds of carbon dioxide that reflect sunlight back into space. Look for it on the eastern horizon two or three hours before dawn. For some extra splendor, wake up early on the morning of July 20 to watch the waning crescent moon briefly glide by Venus.
Marvel at the full Thunder Moon (July 9)
The Thunder Moon, also known as the Buck Moon and Hay Moon will arrive on July 9. (Photo: Angus MacRae/flickr)
With July 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 9.
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.
All eyes on the Russian satellite Mayak (July 14)
On July 14, a team in Russia will launch the Mayak (or "lighthouse") cube satellite aboard a Soyuz-2.1a rocket. Once in orbit, the Mayak will unfurl an array of solar reflectors. In addition to testing a new aerodynamic braking device, the satellite is also expected to be one of the brightest objects in the night sky. With a magnitude of minus 10, it may shine nearly as brightly as the full moon.
The crowdfunded project, designed by students from Moscow Polytechnic, is not without its detractors in the astronomy community.
"We fight so hard for dark skies in and around our planet," Nick Howes, an astronomer and former deputy director of the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland said in an interview with IFLScience. “To see this being potentially ruined by some ridiculous crowd-funded nonsense makes my heart simply despair."
New moon (July 23)
The Milky Way as seen through the Mobius Arch in Alabama Hills. (Photo: Kartik Ramanathan/flickr)
This month's new moon offers the perfect opportunity to grab the telescope and head out for dark, unencumbered views of galaxies, planets, and other celestial sights.
Take in the Delta Aquarids meteor shower (July 27-28)
Look for the Delta Aquarids to light up the early morning skies on July 27 and 28. (Photo: Kris Williams/Flickr)
A precursor to the more popular Perseid meteor shower in early August, the Delta Aquarids peak around July 27 and 28 and offer as many as 10-20 shooting stars per hour. According to EarthSky.org, 5 to 10 percent of the Aquarids leave behind glowing ionized gas trails that last a few seconds after the meteor has passed.
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. With no moonlight to spoil the party, this year's display of shooting stars should be fairly decent.
The return of the 'ghost of the summer dawn' (July 30)
Orion the Hunter 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. 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." You can almost hear him whispering across the creeping light of a new day that "winter is coming..."