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◼ Welcome to your guide to the night sky in July. Venus lies in the evening sky, but remains low in twilight from northern latitudes. It climbs high in the skies of the southern hemisphere. Jupiter and Saturn are easy to spot, now both rising before midnight. Northern hemisphere observers should look out for noctilucent cloud. Here’s what else you can see in July’s night sky.
July’s star chart
Click on the image above, or the following text for an interactive map of constellations visible in the sky. It can be adjusted for any time and date.
We also have a map of the night sky set up for mid-latitudes in the southern hemisphere.
The stars in July 2021
As the sky grows dark at northern latitudes in July, the famous Summer Triangle is already high in the eastern sky. This is a large asterism rather than a constellation, and is formed of three stars, Vega, Deneb and Altair, which are the brightest stars in the constellations of Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila, respectively. Due south, and to the right of Vega, see the figure of one of the sky’s heroes, Hercules.
On the other side of Hercules, the constellation of Bootes, the Herdsman, includes another of the sky’s brightest stars, Arcturus. A good way to find Arcturus is to follow the curved “handle” of the Big Dipper, or Plough, which is the familiar asterism in Ursa Major. Ursa Major is sinking in the evening sky on July evenings while W-shaped Cassiopeia, on the opposite side of the Pole Star, is rising in the east. Between Hercules and Arcturus, you can see a little circlet of stars called Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown.
In the Southern Hemisphere, Crux, the Southern Cross, is still high, above the south celestial pole, followed by the bright stars Alpha and Beta Centauri.
The planets in July 2021
Mercury lies in the morning sky throughout July, but will be low and very difficult to observe from northern latitudes, unless you have a clear, flat north-eastern horizon, such as the sea. It reaches its Greatest Elongation West of the Sun on the 4th, at a distance of 22°, so best to try in the days around then. This morning appearance is much more favourable from southern hemisphere locations, where Mercury will climb several degrees high above the horizon before twilight becomes too bright. Look for a delicate sliver of a crescent Moon nearby on the mornings of 7 and 8 July.
Venus is in the evening sky, shining brilliantly at magnitude -3.9, though it remains tricky to observe from northern latitudes unless you have a clear and unobstructed horizon, because it never gets high in the twilight sky. From 12th to 14th of July, Venus will pass close to Mars in the sky, though the Red Planet will be considerable fainter at magnitude 1.8. This event is unlikely to be easily seen from northern latitudes, as the planets will be very low in twilight, but it will be seen at a greater altitude from the southern hemisphere, and so easier to spot. The two planets will lie less than half a degree apart on the 13th. The previous night, the crescent Moon will lie close by, making a nice spectacle and a great opportunity to take photos. Through a telescope, Venus shows a gibbous phase throughout the month. We have a special article about this apparition of Venus, and how it will appear during 2021.
Mars is finally leaving the celestial stage as it sinks into the evening twilight. It will already be tricky to spot from northern latitudes at the start of July, shining at magnitude 1.8 in the north-west, and will be completely lost in the glare by the end of the month. As noted above, its higher elevation when viewed from southern hemisphere locations means it can be seen for longer, and the close passage of Venus from the 12th to the 14th will be an interesting spectacle to record, especially with the crescent Moon nearby on 12 July.
Read our extensive guide to Mars.
Jupiter has become increasingly prominent in the night sky, and rises before midnight at the start of July from northern hemisphere locations, and before 10pm local time by month’s end. From southern hemisphere locations, Jupiter rises mid-evening at start of July, and a couple of hours earlier by month’s end. The giant planet will be unmistakable as very bright object in the east, shining at a brilliant magnitude -2.8. Heading for opposition in August when it will be visible throughout the night. Jupiter now lies in the constellation of Aquarius, so is better placed along the ecliptic for those at northern latitudes, after years in the far southern constellations of the Zodiac. A waning gibbous Moon will lie close to Jupiter on the 25th. If you have binoculars or a telescope, you can easily see the four brightest satellites of Jupiter, the Galilean moons Io Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. A telescope will also reveal the belts and bands in Jupiter’s cloud tops.
Saturn is becoming well placed for planetary observers, particularly from the southern hemisphere, due to its southerly location in the constellation of Capricornus. The ringed planet rises around an hour before midnight from mid-northern latitudes, where it will be spotted in the south-east, heading westwards throughout the night. Saturn rises early in the evening from the southern hemisphere at the start of July, and earlier by the end of the month. A near-Full Moon lies close to the planet on the 24th. Saturn reaches opposition on 2 August when will be visible all night.
Read more about Saturn.
Uranus becomes more visible during July, in the constellation of Aries, where it shines at magnitude 5.8. At the start of July the planet rises at around 2am local time, but my month’s end, it lifts itself above the eastern horizon at around midnight. Though theoretically visible with the unaided eye when at a high elevation, under clear dark skies, you will practically need binoculars or a small telescope in order to spot it. Uranus is bright enough to be easy to record with a camera and a short time exposure of a few seconds.
Read more about Uranus.
Neptune is in Aquarius, shining at 8th magnitude, so you will need binoculars or a small telescope to see it in the morning sky. It rises at around midnight in the east at the start of July, from northern latitudes, and a couple of hours earlier by the end of the month.
Read more about Neptune.
The α Capricornids are a meteor shower which runs from the first week in July to mid-August, with maximum occurring on 30 July. Though rates are low, at around 5 meteors an hour for any given location, the shower is rich in bright fireballs. So while you may not have the patience to sit out and watch for them, you might well have a fireball catch your eye and find that it is a member of the shower.
The Southern δ Aquariids run from around 12 July to 23 August, peaking around 31 July, when a zenithal hourly rate of 20 or so would be expected under ideal conditions. Unfortunately, conditions are not favourable in 2021 due to moonlight.
One of the strongest and most reliable meteor showers of the year, the Perseids, becomes active around mid July. It will continue throughout next month, reaching a peak on the night of 12-13 August when rates might reach 100 an hour, and conditions will be very favourable for observers. Here is a guide to observing the Perseids in 2021. We also have a general guide to the Perseid meteor shower.
Remember that meteors can appear at any time on any night of the year. We see most when a meteor shower is active. But other meteors also randomly appear which cannot be identified with a known shower, and these are known as sporadic meteors, or simply sporadics. Here is more about these meteors, and how many appear from what is known as the anthelion source.
Variable star Mira is brightening
One of the most interesting stars in the night sky for casual sky-watchers is Mira, or ο Ceti, because it is a variable star with a huge range in brightness. Mira can brighten to second magnitude, making it easy to see with the unaided eye, but regularly fades to as faint as tenth magnitude when a small telescope is needed to see it! By July, Mira had brightened to magnitude 2.5, making it a naked-eye sight in a dark sky. It is expected to be brightest in August. Why not check it out for yourself? Here is our special guide to observing Mira.
Summer months in the northern hemisphere bring a return of night-shining clouds, called noctilucent cloud or NLC, which can be spotted due north around midnight from northerly latitudes. These are the highest atmospheric clouds, high in the mesosphere, and are thought to be formed when ice solidifies around meteor dust and possibly particles from pollution. Read more about noctilucent cloud in our special article.
The Moon always makes a great target for a small telescope, which come into view as its phases change. We’ve a guide to where to find 50 of the best lunar features, plus a checklist to download so you can tick them off as you spot them! Don’t have a telescope? Here’s our guide to choosing one.
Fifty fantastic features – our amazing Moon
Here’s our guide to observing some of the finest sights on the Moon with small telescopes. Our pages of charts will help you find interesting features to seek out yourself, including craters, lava flows, mountain ranges and deep chasms!
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