Hello everyone. This is the first of many articles that I shall be publishing on the website. Many thanks to Michael Wilby for finding and writing up the content of this article
July – The Summer Milky Way and Return of Jupiter
Summer twilight always hampers serious astronomy and during July is at its worst; the sun reaches a minimum altitude of -17˚ below the horizon, and officially the astronomical twilight persists all night! Practically however, the best observing window is between 11pm and 4am and there is by no means little to see this month, whatever your equipment.
The full moon is currently the most obvious target in the sky, and will be visible over the month as it wanes to new on the 30th. Elsewhere in the solar system, as Saturn’s apparition comes to an end so Jupiter has begun to emerge over the Eastern horizon, currently rising at 1am and shifting to midnight by the end of the month. As always it is well worth a look, but we will be seeing plenty more of this planet over the rest of the year as it moves towards opposition at the end of October.
The Milky Way is undoubtedly the star of the summer sky however, arcing from the south point through Cygnus and down to Auriga in the North East. The galactic centre in Sagittarius is currently visible at low altitude to the South, and nearby can be seen a multitude of nebulae and star clusters lying within the galactic plane, including the Trifid and Lagoon nebulae (M20 and M8 respectively) in Sagittarius itself, the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) near Cygnus in Vulpecula, as well as the Double Cluster in Perseus. All of these targets can be seen easily through binoculars and the star fields of the Milky Way appears brilliantly through a pair of binoculars or simply visually from a dark site, while a small telescope can provide better views of individual targets.
For those interested in finding these targets I have attached screens of their locations in the night sky (at midnight on the 20th July). These come from the Stellarium planetarium programme, which I have found very useful over the last year and which is available as a free download at http://www.stellarium.org (and is not simply a trial, unlike Cybersky).