night sky

Eyes on the skies — July

Welcome to the Ontario Parks “Eyes on the Skies” series. This space (<– see what we did there?) will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.

July has finally arrived. Summer is the perfect time to escape the noise, air, and light pollution of the larger urban areas and head to the peace and serenity of a provincial park.

July also hosts a number of beautiful constellations, full of interesting stories to tell.

Here are our astronomical highlights for July, 2020:

The sun

The Earth reaches its furthest point to the Sun on July 4. This point is called “Aphelion” and is, on average, about five million kilometres further than when the Earth is at its closest point (“Perihelion”) in early January.

Sun, low and bright over a lake with a forested shoreline, reflecting in the water

As described in our March edition, the reason that our summers are hot in spite of the distance to the sun has everything to do with the tilt of the Earth and not its distance.

Sunrise and sunset times

July 1 July 15 July 31
Sunrise 5:39 am 5:50 am 6:06 am
Midday 1:30 pm 1:32 pm 1:32 pm
Sunset 9:20 pm 9:13 pm 8:57 pm

The moon 

A less than half fun moon high above a forested lake with blues and pinks in a softly clouded sky

The moon has long captivated observers of all ages. July’s lunar phases of the moon occur as follows:

lunar phases of July

The planets

Jupiter and Saturn are spectacular objects for those who are staying up late.

They arrive at opposition (meaning exactly in the opposite direction of the sun) in the later part of July.

In a telescope, they are amazing objects to see. Jupiter with its spectacular cloud belts and four bright moons and Saturn with its beautiful ring system and many moons.

Learn more about Jupiter and Saturn here.

Meteor showers and satellites

While there are no major meteor showers occurring during the month of July such as August’s Perseids or December’s Geminids, there are two smaller quantity meteor showers: the Delta Aquarids and the Alpha Capricornids.

The former meteor shower peaks on July 29, only a few days after first quarter moon, and can present as many as 25 meteors per hour. The Capricornid meteor shower only provides a maximum of five meteors an hour, but can be seen for several weeks before and after its peak on July 29.

stargazer

Interestingly, July is firefly season in Ontario and many an observer has been fooled into thinking they saw a meteor when they really observed a much closer, but equally splendid natural phenomena!

Meteor observing, especially good in the dark skies of our provincial parks, is one of the most enjoyable ways to get into astronomy. You don’t need any special equipment other than your eyes!

A lounge chair, sleeping bag, and a buddy are all welcome additions to enjoying the spectacle. If you take a look at our constellation charts, you can practice learning your constellations while you watch for the meteors.

A meteor shower occurs when the Earth enters the debris field of a comet that has long ago passed around the sun.

These bits of dust and grit, often no bigger than your thumbnail, enter the earth’s atmosphere and burn up high above the ground (see our post on meteor showers for more information).

Featured constellations: the birds of summer

In this month’s featured constellations, we take a look at the Summer Triangle and the constellations of Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, and Scorpius.

constellations

Learn more about these star stories here.

Did you know…

…we can see surface detail on Mars with even a small telescope? For more information about Mars, visit our post “Looking up at the planet Mars.”

This completes our review of the July skies…

Come back next month to learn more about our galaxy!