July: Sights of Sagittarius might be your cup of tea

This single 30-second image of the Milky Way was taken at ISO1600 with a smartphone leaning against a drink bottle under beautiful dark skies. You don’t always need fancy equipment to capture what’s right in front of you. Photo: MPAS member Nerida Langcake

Looking north in July, the wonderful globular cluster M5 is high in the sky. It is roughly 25,000 light-years away from Earth, towards the constellation Serpens Caput. A small telescope brings many of its outer stars into focus. A short hop east over Ophiuchus into Serpens Cauda and you will find the open cluster M16 surrounded by the much fainter Eagle Nebula.

Sitting high in the southern skies, Scorpius is easy to spot this month. Nearby is the constellation Sagittarius, which is famous for the ‘Teapot’ asterism formed by some of its brightest stars. When you look towards Sagittarius and Scorpius, you are peering towards the centre of the Milky Way galaxy. This whole region is full of rich and beautiful star fields that are great to explore using binoculars.

At this time of the year the constellation Sagittarius offers some exceptional deep-sky objects. The globular cluster M22 is visible to the naked eye if you have good observing conditions. The Lagoon Nebula, or M8, lying above the spout of the Teapot, is a glowing cloud of gas. Other famous deep-sky objects in Sagittarius are visible through a telescope, including the Trifid Nebula, or M20. Beside Sagittarius, Scorpius contains the bright open clusters M6 and M7, which remain high in the sky this month. To the north in the constellation Serpens Cauda, the Tail of the Serpent, lies the open cluster M16 in the much fainter Eagle Nebula.

Venus and Mars will make a close approach, passing within just over 3 degrees of each other on July 1. They will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars. Then on July 12 there will be a close approach of the moon and Jupiter, passing within just over 1 degree of each other.

July 5 will see Venus at its highest altitude in the evening sky, and July 10 at its greatest brightness.

The peak of three meteor showers – the Piscis Austrinids, Alpha Capricornids, and Southern Delta Aquariids – will occur on July 29 and 30.

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the July 2023 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.