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What to see in the night skies in July, from Jupiter to a meteor shower

09 July, 2020 - 11:44
Astronomer, Neil Norman  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Astronomer, Neil Norman Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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We’re just past the longest day now which means that the nights will now slowly begin to get longer again and darker, writes Suffolk astronomer Neil Norman.

July is dominated by the two gas giants of the Solar System, Jupiter and Saturn.

If you face south at 11pm, you will see a large yellow ‘star’. This is in fact the planet Jupiter, shining very brightly.

If you have a good pair of binoculars you should be able to see the four Galilean moons (Callisto, Ganymede, Io and Europa) as they orbit their parent planet.

Those with a modest telescope will note that the planet takes on the appearance of a “squashed ball”. This is because the planet is almost completely made of gas and rotates very quickly upon its axis (just over nine hours) and this causes flattening at the poles.

You can also see the cloud belts of the planet and you may even be lucky to see the Great Red Spot, a gigantic hurricane that has been rotating around the planet for hundreds of years.

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Saturn is visible slightly lower and to the left of Jupiter and is less bright, but is a coffee colour, so easy to identify.

Binoculars will show you that there’s something amiss with this star, because it looks elongated. This us because the planet has the famous ring system around it. A telescope will show the ring system much better and is a striking sight in an earpiece, and certainly something for the children to see.

Later in the month, on the night of July 28/29, we can expect to see a minor meteor shower called the Delta Aquarids.

This is the debris cast off by the periodic comet 96P/Machholz and you can expect to see up to 20 meteors per hour cross the south-eastern sky.

Those prepared to stay up a little longer will see the red planet Mars begin its journey to opposition in October, when it will become very bright.

Mars is a small world and telescopes are needed to show surface details, but during the month and using just your eye, you will notice the planet get brighter and appear bigger a little each evening.

MORE: Try the great astronomy quiz


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