July 2020 offers us cool, easy backyard stargazing—no charts or knowledge needed. See Jupiter and Saturn at their brightest and closest for the year as well as Mars at midnight. Go out any night you’re in the mood and you’re in for a treat! Here are details.
Vega, the Bright Blue Star
Directly overhead is a bright blue star. This is the famous Vega, twice as heavy as our Sun, and the future North Star 12,000 years from now. Vega was the fictional location of the aliens in the movie Contact, even if Jodie Foster and everyone else wrongly pronounced it “VAY-ga.” Actually, it was WEga until around a century ago, a name that came from the old Arabic and meant a falling eagle. It’s properly pronounced VEE-ga.
Jupiter and Saturn at Brightest
Also at midnight, much lower in the south, you’ll see the brightest “star” in the whole sky—the yellow-white planet Jupiter. The bright star to its left is Saturn. These giant worlds are both at their very brightest and closest this month. If you have a small telescope, this is where to point it.
- On July 14, 2020, Jupiter is at opposition to the Sun (opposite the Earth from the Sun). It’s the best time to observe and photograph Jupiter all year; the largest planet in our solar system will be at its closet and brightest for the year, reaching its highest point around midnight.
- On July 20, less than a week after Jupiter’s opposition, Saturn has its own opposition to the Sun. The Ringed Planet is also at its closest and brightest for the year. With the new Moon on the same night, Saturn viewing should be at its best!
Mars at Midnight
People who have a flat, oceanlike, perfectly unobstructed eastern horizon—meaning those with beach homes on the East coast, and many in Kansas too—might see a brilliant orange star just popping up due east at midnight, balancing on the horizon like a beacon on a distant cell phone tower. For the rest of us, give it an hour to get high enough to easily see.
It’s Mars! Brilliantly riveting, it will keep brightening further until it reaches its closest approach to us three months from now.
Venus Now a Morning Star
Finally, insomniacs and early risers can look in that same eastward direction between 4:30 and 5 AM to see the truly extraordinary brilliance of the Morning Star—Venus.
Mark July 17 on your calendar, because on that Friday morning, Venus will be joined by the crescent Moon and Taurus’ orange star Aldebaran in a breathtaking three-way conjunction. For now, enjoy it at that pre-dawn hour because it’s at its very brightest, easily outshining brilliant orange Mars now nicely up in the south, and even besting Jupiter setting in the west.
Four eye-catching planets, plus a pair of famous orange and blue stars. Easy and cool.
And the price is right.
Source: Farmer's Almanac - Amazing Sky