Night sky highlights - July 2019

Find out what you can see in the night sky tonight, from a partial lunar eclipse on 16 July to the Delta Aquiariid meteor shower at the end of the month.

By Patricia Skelton, Astronomy Education Officer 

(Details given are for London and may vary for other parts of the UK)

Top 3 things to see in the night sky in July 2019

  • 9 July: Saturn reaches opposition and will be at its brightest and fullest.
  • 16 July: Watch the partial lunar eclipse
  • 28/29 July: The Delta Aquariid meteor shower peaks on this night. 

Look Up! Podcast

Subscribe and listen to the Royal Observatory Greenwich podcast. As well as taking you through what to see in the night sky each month, the astronomers pick their favourite astro news story.  For July they're chatting about the discovery of cold quasars, galaxies that are filled with cold gas but are still forming stars, and in celebration of Apollo 11, they talk about the rocket that made it possible: the Saturn V.  Have a listen below then vote for your favourite news story on our Twitter poll during the first week of the month.

Our podcast is available on iTunes too - search Look Up! and rate us if you enjoyed listening. 

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9 July

Saturn

Jupiter and Saturn remain well placed throughout this month, offering excellent targets for the unaided eye, a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

Saturn is coming to its opposition point, effectively the closest it ever gets to the Earth, on 9 July and so technically will be at its brightest and fullest.  However, the wide orbits and slow motions of the planets mean it will remain bright and easy to see for a couple of months either side of this date. Binocular and telescope users should be sure to look out for the beautiful rings around this vast gas giant or try and see the largest moons around Jupiter, famous for their discovery by Galileo over 400 years ago.

Find out more about planets in opposition by watching the video below.

16 July

Partial lunar eclipse

The Moon this month begins in its new moon phase on the 2nd, with lucky observers in the Southern Pacific and parts of South America being treated to a total solar eclipse. This is when the Moon covers the entire disc of the Sun, turning day briefly into night.

This will unfortunately be completely invisible from most of the rest of the world including the UK and Europe, which won't even see a tiny partial eclipse.  However, we will be able to see a partial lunar eclipse during full moon on 16 July.  With the Moon rising just after 9pm BST (8pm UTC), while the eclipse peaks at around 10:30pm BST (9:30pm UTC), over half of the Moon will be covered by the Earth's shadow.  Look for the curved edge to the shadow, one of the most easily visible pieces of evidence that shows that the Earth is definitely round.

Discover more about the next lunar eclipse

20 July

Sea of Tranquility

This month is also the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, which occurred at 20:17 UTC on 20 July 1969. Armstrong’s famous first walk on the Moon took place about seven hours later.

The Moon won’t have risen in UK skies when the 50th anniversary of the landing occurs, but will have in time for the first walk’s anniversary. While the remains of the site are well below the sensitivity of Earth-based telescopes, the dark region of the Moon known as the Sea of Tranquility, which served as the landing site for Apollo 11, will be easily visible close to the terminator: the line between the light and dark sides of the Moon.

The Moon exhibition: book tickets now

28/29 July

Delta Aquariids meteor shower

A moderate meteor shower also graces our skies this month with the Delta Aquariids which peaks in very late July, around the 28th and 29th.

Unlike many of the major displays there is some debate over what parent body these meteors come from, though the most likely situations involve either the breakup of the Marsden and Kracht sungrazing comets, or more recently Comet 96P Machholz, a fairly short period comet discovered in 1986.

As the Moon will be in a thin crescent phase at the time of the shower, you’ll have a reasonable chance of seeing some meteors. However, with an ideal rate of only 20 per hour, and the radiant point in Aquarius being less than ideally placed, you will likely see only a handful of meteors this time around. To see them, wait from the early morning hours around 2am and fill your view with the sky to maximize your chance of seeing one.

The Moon's phases this month

From the dark side © László Francsics
From the dark side © László Francsics
  • 2 July - new moon (08:16pm)
  • 9 July - first quarter moon (11:55am)
  • 16 July - full moon (10:38pm)
  • 25 July - last quarter moon (02:18am)

See a selection of the amazing shortlisted photographs, including From the dark side © László Francsics from the 2018 Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.

Stargazing tips

  • When looking at faint objects such as stars, nebulae, the Milky Way and other galaxies it is important to allow your eyes to adapt to the dark – so that you can achieve better night vision.
  • Allow 15 minutes for your eyes to become sensitive in the dark and remember not to look at your mobile phone or any other bright device when stargazing.
  • If you’re using a star app on your phone then switch on the red night vision mode. 
  • Need a stargazing telescope or binoculars?  Check out our range of high quality observing equipment recommended by Royal Observatory astronomers.

See our range of observing equipment

Share your astronomy pictures

This month's banner image, North shore of Mare Imbrium © Jordi Delpeix Borrell, celebrates the Moon and is one of the shortlisted photographs from the 2018 Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.

If you want to be in with a chance to showcase your astrophotography skills on the banner of next month's night sky blog, share your photos via our Royal Observatory Facebook Group

You can also connect with us on Twitter: @ROGAstronomers

Marvellous Moons exhibition

Marvellous Moons

Come and see spectacular images of the amazing moons in our solar system and learn more about them in our free exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

The exhibition is open daily until 20 March 2020.

See more of the night sky

Come on an amazing tour of this month's night sky in our Sky Tonight planetarium show delivered live by a Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomer.

See the Sky Tonight planetarium show

Central image: © Jordi Delpeix Borrell

Resources for teachers and students

The Royal Observatory learning team has also created:

  • Free animated videos that answer the biggest questions in astronomy and free resources to go alongside them.

You can find them here

ROG video 'How big is the Universe?'
ROG video 'How big is the Universe?'
  • A whole host of podcasts featuring interviews with real space scientistsastronauts and active researchers working in UK universities.

You can listen to these here

Hubble Ultra Deep Field
Career choice: cosmologist (Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team)