For sky watchers, July is a special month that promises a dazzling view of the Milky Waybut more on that later.
First of all, the early morning hours of July offer a great view of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Venus is also visible, but only if you have a clear view of the horizon, as the planet appears quite low.
“Planets spread across the morning sky, accompanied by bright stars, Capella, Aldebaran and Fomalhaut,” NASA explained in its monthly bulletin, adding that on July 20, you should also keep your eyes peeled for “the last quarter half-full moon between Mars and Jupiter. And the next morning, you’ll find the moon sitting right next to Mars.”
NASA also goes into the origin of the expression “dog days of summer,” used to refer to the hot, sultry weather common in the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year.
The phrase dates back to ancient times and is linked to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
“At the peak 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 we do today,” NASA explained. “Sirius is its most prominent star, and is sometimes called ‘the dog star.'”
In ancient Greek, Sirius means “the fiery one,” and both the Greeks and Romans thought that the bright star added to the sun’s heat during that time of year, making it even hotter. This led them to call this time of year the “dog days” (dies canicularis In latin).
Of course, since those times, we have learned that our sun is the only star that impacts temperatures here on Earth, with the tilt of our planet altering the temperature and ushering in different seasons through the 12-month cycle.
Finally, July offers a great opportunity to marvel at the dazzling spectacle that is the Milky Way, a galaxy, our galaxy, containing several hundred billion stars.
“Looking south on July nights after sunset, you’ll find a sky full of bright stars,” NASA said of the Milky Way. “It’s visible to the south as soon as it gets completely dark. But even if you’re under urban skies too bright to see the core of the Milky Way, the group of stars in Sagittarius known as the teapot will help you pinpoint their location in the sky.”
The teapot is a star pattern, which, as the name suggests, resembles the tea brewing container. What’s particularly cool about the kettle is that it looks like its spout is “spilling a cosmic cup,” as NASA puts it, with the stars of the Milky Way seemingly emanating from the pot’s opening.
The video at the top of this page provides a detailed explanation on how to spot the teapot and the Milky Way. Alternatively, check out your favorite astronomy app for the same information.