Think you can’t find planets, identify bright stars, or find constellations you may want to give this a try. No star maps, you just need to find the Moon. The best times to look are 30 minutes after sunset or when the Moon in is the morning sky about an hour before sunrise.
This month (2012) the Moon will pass by the planets Saturn, Mars, Venus and Jupiter. The bright stars to see are Spica, Arcturus, Antares, Altair, Vega, and Deneb. This month the constellations Cancer and Gemini go behind the Sun. Gemini will start to reappear in the morning sky by month’s end.
This is set up for Aurora, Colorado. Things will be slightly different depending on your location, but will still work for finding the planets and bright stars.
Observe 30 to 60 minutes after sunset
On July 1 the gibbous moon is in the constellation Ophiuchus the serpent-bearer and thirteenth constellation of the Zodiac . There are no bright stars in Ophiuchus. The bright star to the right of the Moon is Antares. Antares is a red super giant, heart of the scorpion, Scorpius, and the rival of Mars (it looks a lot like Mars because of its reddish color). If Antares were the Sun the Earth would be orbiting inside of it.
On July 2 a fuller gibbous moon has move to the constellation Sagittarius the archer. Sagittarius points the way to the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Most amateur astronomers call Sagittarius the teapot. The pattern of stars, albeit somewhat faint, looks more like a teapot than an archer.
On July 3 the Moon is full. Technically the Moon is full for only a moment in time. That occurs on12:53pm MDT. The full moon marks the transition of the Moon moving from the evening sky to the morning sky. For more detailed information about this month’s full moon including names go here.
Above and to the left of the Moon are three bright stars that form a large triangle called the Summer Triangle. The three stars are Altair (lowest) in the constellation Aqulia the eagle and Vega (high and right) in Lyra the harp and Deneb (below and to the left of Vega) in Cygnus the swan. Deneb is the dimmest of the three, but the farthest away at 1700 light years making it one of the farthest stars you can see. It burns 60,000 times brighter than the Sun.
Start observing 60 minutes before sunrise
On July 4 you can observe the full moon set over the mountains along with the Summer Triangle.
On July 5 the Moon moves to the constellation Capricornus the goat. There are no bright stars in Capricornus.
On July 6-7 the Moon is in the constellation Aquarius the water bearer. There are no bright stars in Aquarius.
On July 8-11 the Moon will be in the constellation Pisces the fishes. There are no bright stars in Pisces. To the left of the Moon on the eastern horizon are two very bright “stars” Jupiter (upper) and Venus (lower). Venus will pass the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus the bull. Look to the right of Venus. The Moon will join this group on July 15. It should be a magnificent sight. Go here for details.
On July 11 the Moon will be at last quarter (half moon). At this phase the Moon is approximately in the same place in space the Earth and you will be in 3.5 hours. Note how the Moon will plunge toward the rising Sun in the next six days.
On July 12-13 the Moon is in the constellation Aries the ram. Jupiter and Venus are to the left of the Moon on the eastern horizon.
On July 14-16 The Moon will be in the constellation Taurus. On July 15 a thin crescent moon will be between Jupiter (upper) and Venus (lower). This will be worth getting up to see.
On July 17 the Moon enters the constellation Gemini which is just coming out from behind the sun. It will be a very thin crescent and difficult to see in the glare of the rising Sun.
On July 19 the Moon is new (no moon). The Moon rises and sets with the Sun. The Moon will start being visible in the early evening in the western sky within a few days. The new moon marks the transition of the Moon moving from the morning sky to the evening sky.
Observe 30 to 60 minutes after sunset
On July 22 the Moon will be a thin crescent just above the western horizon after sunset. The Moon will be in the constellation Leo the Lion, but no stars will likely be visible because of solar glare.
On July 23 the Moon is in Virgo the virgin. Just above and to the left of the Moon is Mars. The line from the Moon through Mars points to Saturn. Below Saturn is Virgo’s brightest star, Spica. Well above the crescent moon (50 degrees) is the bright star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes the herdsman.
On July 24 the Moon moves between Mars and Saturn
On July 25 the Moon moves to the left of Saturn
On July 26-27 the Moon moves to the constellation Libra the scales. There are no bright stars in Libra. The Moon will be at first quarter or half moon on July 26. When the Moon is at first quarter it’s approximately in same place in space as the Earth and you were 3.5 hours ago.
On July 28 the Moon returns to the constellation Ophiuchus the serpent-bearer where it started out at the beginning of the month. Below the Moon is the bright star Antares in the constellation Scorpius the scorpion.
On July 29-31 the Moon is in the constellation Sagittarius the archer.
Until next month wishing you clear skies.