The Sky Above You – July 2023

By Duncan Lunan

map of the night sky, position of the stars and planets for July

The Moon will be Full on July 3rd, a Supermoon when it is at its closest to Earth as well as Full.  It will be New on July 17th, near Venus and Mercury on the 19th and 20th, with Mars in the background but now very much fainter than the inner planets.

On 22nd June this year, the midsummer sunrise was photographed and filmed by Grahame Gardner and by Dr. Kenny Brophy of Glasgow University, at the Sighthill stone circle overlooking Pinkston Road in Glasgow (Fig. 1).  The original stone circle built by the Glasgow Parks Astronomy Project, in 1979, was the first astronomically aligned one in the British Isles for over 3000 years. The stones were removed in 2016 to make way for redevelopment of the area, but in response to a public online petition, as former Project Manager I was commissioned to redesign it, for its new site. The stones were re-erected at the spring equinox of 2019, but for health and safety reasons they have remained fenced off by the contractors until May 2023.

three standing stones with the sunrise
Fig. 1. Midummer sunrise 22nd June 2023, Sighthll stone circle, by Dr. Kenny Brophy

 The Sun rose precisely over the marker stone, as predicted.  Midsummer sunset is now hidden behind the new houses of the Sighthill development, and will not be visible from the stone circle until after they are removed.  Attempts will be made to photograph other events such as equinox and midwinter, as weather permits.

After superior conjunction with the Sun on July 1st, the planet Mercury returns to the evening sky around July 15th, very low to the lower right of Venus.  On July 19th and 20th the thin crescent Moon will be near Mercury  (closest on the 19th), Venus  (closest on the 20th), Mars  (closest on the 21st), and Regulus in Leo, but this far north, binoculars will be needed to find them all in the evening twilight, if it can be done at all.

On June 20th Europe’s BepiColombo probe to Mercury made its third flyby of the planet, after one flyby of Earth and two of Venus, all to reduce its speed.  The June 20th photos  (Figs. 2 & 3)  were taken by an auxiliary camera installed to film the deployment of the antennae after launch  (hence the JAXA logo).  The main cameras will not be turned on until after BepiColombo makes three more flybys, entering orbit around Mercury in 2025, during which it will separate into a Japanese satellite to observe the magnetic field, and a closer orbiter to study the planet.  

Venus is at its brightest on July 9th, but is descending rapidly in the evening skyas it overtakes the Earth anddrawsnearer to the Sun, seen from here, to pass it next month.  On the 20th Regulus is between the Moon and Venus, Mars to the left and Mercury to the right.  It disappears by the end of the month at the latest, and is at inferior conjunction with the Sun on August 13th

In early JulyMars is just 3.5 degrees to upper left of Venus, but now very much fainter.  Mars remains in Leo throughout the month, and is closest to the Moon on the 21st.  Only Mars and Regulus  (at the extreme right of Leo)  appear on our map, drawn for 9 p.m. (GMT/UT), 10 p.m. (BST), because both Venus and Mercury set at 9.45 p.m. BST.  After that Mars will disappear behind the Sun.

The MAVEN spacecraft, which has been studying Mars in ultraviolet wavelengths since 2014, has obtained two remarkable false-colour views during the recent southern hemisphere summer  (Fig. 4).  The first shows the shrunken south polar cap and the Argyre impact basin, with the great rift valley of Valles Marineris filled with mist to the north.  Fans of the BBC’s Journey into Space serials may recall that in 1955 the Mars expedition landed on the south polar cap and drove north across Argyre in a matter of days.  But then, everything on Mars was thought to be smooth and flat in those days.  The second image shows the North Polar Hood of ice crystals which covers much of the northern hemisphere in winter.  The magenta colour shows where oxygen has been released, forming ozone, as the ice is destroyed by solar ultraviolet radiation.

Fig. 4. MAVEN u-v obs, July 2022 southern hemisphere summer with Argyre, mist in Valles Marineris (top), Jan 2023 northern hemisphere winter, North Polar Hood ozone (magenta)

Jupiter rises about 1.00 a.m. in Aries, and before midnight by the end of July.  It’s closely passed by the Moon on June 12th.  On the morning of 29th July, the volcanic moon Io will be to the left of the planet as its shadow crosses the disc, with Callisto behind Jupiter to the right, and Europa and Ganymede further to the right of Jupiter, in line with it.

With the radar antenna problem on ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer solved and the spacecraft well on its way, there will be another tense moment in October when NASA’s Europa Clipper is scheduled to launch as well.  There’s a chance now to add your name to the mission’s ‘Message in a Bottle’, which will go to Jupiter with the spacecraft, but won’t survive into the far future because it will be destroyed at the end of the mission.

Saturn in central Aquarius rises about 11 p.m., before midnight by the end of the month, and is near the waning crescent Moon on the 6th.  Saturn will be at opposition, at its closest to us, in late August.  

Uranus in Aries rises at 1.30 a.m., near the Moon on July 12th, rising about midnight by the end of July.

Neptune rises about 11.30 p.m. in Pisces, coming to its ‘stationary point’ on July 1st as the Earth begins to overtake it.  Neptune is near the Moon on the 8th.

As noted last month, July is the second month in which to look for noctilucent clouds in the evening and morning sky, after sunset and before dawn.  These ‘night-glowing’ clouds are about 50 miles up and reflect sunlight so well that they appear to be ice crystals, though it’s not clear how ice can remain aloft and react to high winds at such a height.  There’s a chance of seeing early Perseid meteors from 17th July onwards, although the peak of the shower is not till August 12th to 14th.

The successful launch and subsequent achievements of the NASA-ESA James Webb Space Telescope have overshadowed preparations for ESA’s next space observatory.  The Euclid mission has taken four years longer than planned to get to this stage, but it’s intended to join the galaxy-mapping GAIA observatory and the JWST at the L2 point, a million miles beyond Earth on the far side from the Sun  (Fig. 5).  Its object is to map the presence and quantity of dark matter in the Universe, in the present and in the past when it’s believed to have played a major part in the origin of the galaxies.  Euclid is scheduled for launch by SpaceX Falcon 9, from Kennedy Space Centre, at 16.11 BST on Sunday, July 1st.  The launch will be covered live by and by the SpaceX website, as well as by ESA Web TV and the ESA Youtube livestream.

Fig. 5. ESA Euclid for Dark Matter L2 search, launch Falcon 9 July 1st 2023

Duncan Lunan’s recent books are available through Amazon.  For more information see Duncan’s website,

You can download a copy of July’s Map here:

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