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, 2018:

The sun

On July 6, Earth is at its furthest point from the sun. 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 5:38 am 5:49 am 6:06 am
Midday 13:30 pm 13:31 pm 13:32 pm
Sunset 21:20 pm 21:13 pm 20:56 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:

Waning mood on July 1st, last quarter moon on July 6th, Waning cresent moon on Jly 8th, new moon on July 13, Waxing cresent moon on July 17, First quarter moon on July 20, Waxing Gibbous moon on July 24, Full moon on July 27

The planets

The moment we’ve been waiting for is finally here — at least as far as planet-watching is concerned.

In the July night skies, viewers will have the opportunity to view the four brightest planets between sunset and midnight.

Starting with the brightest planet, we can see Venus low in the western sky after sunset (perhaps shining off the water if you’re lucky!).

Next is the solar system’s largest planet Jupiter, low in the southwest sky. It is normally the next brightest after Venus but not so this year. A telescope will display the cloud belts and possibly, Jupiter’s giant Red Spot.

After Jupiter we come to Saturn, low in the southeast sky. Even a small telescope will display its rings and larger instruments can present spectacular views. While the rings are well placed for viewing this year (sometimes they are hard to see), the planet itself is fairly low in the sky and atmospheric turbulence may cause some blurring of this most amazing planet.

Last out is the current brightness winner: Mars. Mars is the obvious reddish planet that rises low in the southeast just before midnight. Mars is a spectacular planet to observe in a large telescope.

Despite the common “Mars Hoax” that makes an appearance each year (saying that Mars will appear as large as the moon), you need a telescope to see this planet. This year, Mars makes an excellent close approach in July, and is directly opposite the sun on July 27.

Meteor showers and satellites

Towards the latter part of July, two different meteor showers tide us over until the great Perseids of August: the Delta Aquariids and the Alpha Capricornids.

Both meteor showers will appear to originate low in the southeast. The Capricornids have very few meteors, but they can be occasionally quite bright, almost as bright or brighter than Venus.

The Aquariids are at the other extreme. They can produce up to 15 meteors or so per hour, but they tend to not be very bright.

Meteor observing, especially 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.

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

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!

Feeling extra starry-eyed?

Ontario Parks has a free wallpaper download featuring the night sky. Download yours and add some stardust to your device.