This is Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. It’s the fifth planet from the Sun and about 484 million miles from it. Its diameter is close to 88,000 miles. That makes it about 11 times wider than the Earth. Jupiter is almost entirely composed of hydrogen and helium. The surface temperature of Jupiter is -160° F.
Jupiter’s day is only 10 hours long and its year is 12 Earth years long.
Jupiter has 56 confirmed moons and 26 “provisional” moons. (A newly discovered object that appears to be orbiting a planet is designated provisional until further study confirms its orbit around the planet.) The light spot just to the right of Jupiter is the moon, Io. It’s a little bit larger than our own moon. NASA’s Voyager 1 showed Io has about 400 active volcanoes, making it the most volcanically active object in our solar system.
With a magnitude of -2.9, Jupiter is the third brightest object in the night skies. Only Venus and our moon are brighter. That also means it’s very easy to spot with the naked eye.
Jupiter will rise just after 9:00 p.m. on July 1. Simply look out over the ocean to the SE and given clear skies you will see Jupiter.
About 20 minutes later another gas giant planet will rise, Saturn.
Saturn is the second largest planet in our solar system and the sixth planet from the Sun. It’s about 886 million miles from the sun. Its diameter is close to 72,000 miles. That makes Saturn about nine times wider than the Earth. Like Jupiter, Saturn is almost entirely composed of hydrogen and helium. It has a surface temperature of -290º F.
Saturn’s day is only 10 hours, 42 minutes long. But Saturn’s year is 29.5 Earth years.
Like Jupiter, Saturn has a lot of moons. It has 53 confirmed moons and 29 “provisional” moons. Saturn is not as bright as Jupiter – it has a visual magnitude of +0.2. That still makes it brighter than most of the stars in the night skies.
What you can look for in July’s Night Skies
Saturn and Jupiter are the two most obvious objects to view in the evening skies. But there are two other planets that are also easy to see in the night skies. Mars rises at 12:35 a.m. It’s bright and red. Venus rises at 3:45 a.m. With a magnitude of -4.5, the only thing that is brighter in the night skies is the moon. If you are into getting up to watch the sunrise, get out on the beach an hour or so early and take the time to appreciate how beautiful this “morning star” can be!
While you’re out looking for Jupiter and Saturn, let your gaze go to the SE. On a clear night, you’ll be able to see a very bright section of the Milky Way. That particular section is also home to quite a few spectacular nebulae including the Eagle Nebula, Omega Nebula, Trifid Nebula, and Lagoon Nebula. All of these nebulae have visual magnitudes above +6.0, so you will need a good pair of binoculars to see them. The bright section that lies in the center of them is called the Sagittarius Star Cloud. It has a visual magnitude of +4.6 and is number 24 in Messier’s list of things that you shouldn’t mistake for comets. There are about 1,000 stars in M24!
The Delta Aquariids meteor shower will peak on the early morning of July 28. You can expect to see 15 to 20 shooting stars per hour. They are pretty easy to find, too: simply look south! Best viewing will be between 3 and 5 a.m.
And if you look to the Northeast you might be able to see the Perseids meteor shower. It peaks in August, but there’s always a good chance to see some early action in late July!
1st Quarter is July 27
Full Moon July 5
Last Quarter is July 12
New Moon is July 20