The Sky In July: Don’t Miss The ‘Blood Moon’ And Mars’ Closest Approach In 15 Years

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June was packed with exciting astronomical events and July certainly keeps the ball rolling. While last month stargazers were treated to beautiful views of the “Strawberry Moon,” this month we’re in for an even bigger surprise: a total lunar eclipse complete with a “Blood Moon.”

Meanwhile, five of the bright planets are still twinkling in the sky, making for memorable sights at twilight and in the early hours after nightfall, with Mars stealing the thunder as it comes closer to Earth than it’s been in 15 years.

Venus and Mercury

Venus, the brightest planet in our solar system, has dominated the night sky all throughout June and will continue to glow in the west right after sunset, sharing the sky with Mercury up until nightfall, notes Sky & Telescope.

Sky watchers keeping their eyes on Venus can follow its guiding beacon to spot Mercury in its lower right, as the pair will be visible together through mid-July.

The best views of Mercury are to be expected around July 11 and 12, when the closest planet to the sun appears to gain a bit of distance, making it easier to see in the sky.

Jupiter and Saturn

Once darkness sets it, Venus and Mercury are no longer visible but cue in another planetary pair, Jupiter and Saturn. As reported by the Inquisitr, the gas giants put on quite the celestial show last month, with Saturn reaching opposition on June 27 and lining up with the sun on opposite sides of our planet.

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According to Astronomy Magazine, Saturn remains “on display nearly all night among the background stars of northern Sagittarius.” Gazing at the ringed giant through a telescope will offer spectacular views of the Trifid Nebula west of Saturn.

A little lower, just south of the Trifid, stargazers can see the even brighter Lagoon Nebula — a colossal stellar nursery so big that it can be spotted with the naked eye on dark, cloudless nights, the Inquisitr previously reported.

Meanwhile, Jupiter reigns in the night sky from twilight and up until the early hours of the morning — “unmistakably bright and rather isolated among the dim stars of Libra,” as noted by Sky & Telescope.

‘Blood Moon’ And Total Lunar Eclipse

One of the greatest astronomical events of the month — and the entire century, for that matter — is the total lunar eclipse of July 27-28. Although it won’t be visible in North America, reports The Express, the total lunar eclipse will offer an unforgettable spectacle to viewers in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe, and parts of South America.

As the Inquisitr recently reported, July’s eclipse will be the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century and is expected to last almost two hours — four, if you count in the partial lunar eclipses that will bracket the total eclipse on both sides.

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The most memorable thing about the July 2018 lunar eclipse is that it will feature a spectacular phenomenon known as the “blood moon,” when Earth’s natural satellite passes through our planet’s shadow and appears bathed in a deep red hue, instead of just vanishing from sight.

Mars Opposition And Closest Approach Since 2003

The other main celestial event of July is all about Mars. The Red Planet will be seen right next to the eclipsing moon on July 27, as it reaches opposition and slides in a perfect alignment with Earth and the sun — with our planet directly in the middle.

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Less than a week later, on July 31, Mars will be making its closest approach to Earth in 15 years, coming within 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers) from our home planet. That’s about a million miles farther than it came in 2003, when Mars made its closest approach in nearly 60,000 years.

In the video below, Jane Houston Jones of NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, offers some great tips on when to see the best views of Mars this July.

“If you’re new to stargazing, this month and next will be a good time to check out Mars. Through a telescope you should be able to make out some of the light and dark features, and sometimes polar ice.”