The 3 Best Nights to Stargaze in July 2019: See Saturn and a Lunar Eclipse

From Saturn's closest pass to Earth to full moons, partial moons and meteor showers 

Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower

There’s no better time than the month of July to spend looking up into the heavens and gazing in awe and wonder at the cosmic choreography as it unfolds above.

So why not spend some of those warm summer evenings, outside, beverage in hand, staring at the sky and contemplating existential issues with friends and family.

1. Tuesday, July 9

Saturn at opposition. Much like Jupiter was last month, though this time the ringed gas giant will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. It will be brighter than any other time of the year and will be visible all night long.

Saturn will be roughly 746 million miles (1.2 billion kilometers) apart, or eight times the distance between the Earth and the sun. That’s very nearly twice the distance between Earth and Jupiter, when that was at its closest. Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second-largest in the Solar System, after Jupiter. It has an average radius about nine times that of Earth, but only one-eighth the average density of Earth. However, with its larger volume Saturn is over 95 times more massive.

Saturn and Titan, hurtling through the void together
Saturn and Titan, hurtling through the void together

This is the best time to view and photograph Saturn. A medium-sized or large telescope will allow you to see Saturn’s rings and a few of its brightest natural satellites. The largest of Saturn’s moons – it has 62 with formal designations – is Titan, which is the second-largest in the Solar System and bigger than the planet Mercury.

2. Tuesday, July 16

A full moon. Also on Tuesday, July 16, the moon will be on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be fully illuminated. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Buck Moon because the male buck deer would begin to grow their new antlers at this time of year. This moon has also been known as the Full Thunder Moon and the Full Hay Moon. In the past, it was common to think that many forms of mental illness were caused by the moon, hence the term lunatic.

Stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors. Full moons bring out the werewolves
Stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors. Full moons bring out the werewolves

Partial Lunar Eclipse While some parts of the world will see a full moon, most of Europe, Africa, central Asia, and the Indian Ocean will witness what’s called a partial lunar eclipse. This occurs when the moon passes through the Earth’s partial shadow, or penumbra and only a portion of it passes through the darkest shadow, or umbra.

A partial lunar eclipse explained
A partial lunar eclipse explained CREDIT: timeanddate.com

During this type of eclipse a part of the moon will darken as it moves through the Earth’s shadow. There’s a good guide here that explains where you can see this particular phenomenon.

Areas with lighter shadings left (West) of the center will experience the eclipse after moonrise/sunset. Areas with lighter shadings right (East) of the center will experience the eclipse until moonset/sunrise. Actual eclipse visibility depends on weather conditions and line of sight to the Moon.
Areas with lighter shadings left (West) of the center will experience the eclipse after moonrise/sunset. Areas with lighter shadings right (East) of the center will experience the eclipse until moonset/sunrise. Actual eclipse visibility depends on weather conditions and line of sight to the Moon. CREDIT: timeanddate.com

It might seem unusual for part of the world to see a full moon and another part to see a partial lunar eclipse on the same night, but it’s not that uncommon because of the inclination of the moon’s orbital plane. The moon’s orbital path around the Earth is inclined at an angle of 5° to the Earth’s orbital plane (ecliptic) around the Sun.

3. Sunday, July 28

The Delta Aquarids meteor shower. Technically, this is the Southern Delta Aquarids, the Northern Delta Aquarids peak later in mid August. Produced by debris left behind by comets Marsden and Kracht, up to 20 meteors per hour can rain down at about 92,000 miles per hour through the Earth’s atmosphere at its peak and it peaks this year on the night of July 28 and morning of July 29.

Meteors
Media via NASA, Lightbox, Time&Date, Bob King, PSKA