Mars reaches opposition — when Earth is directly between Mars and the sun, think “full” Mars — on July 27 at about 5 a.m., according to the U.S. Naval Observatory.
The Red Planet reaches its closest approach to Earth on July 31. It’s been 15 years since it has been this close, and the planet will get very close again in 2035, according to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
As July begins, our neighboring Red Planet will be a -2.2 magnitude (very bright) object, but it will dazzle skygazers at -2.5 magnitude by mid-month. By July’s waning days, catch Mars at a brilliant -2.8 magnitude.
The July 27 full moon hangs out with the Red Planet. The waxing gibbous moon approaches Mars on July 26 but appears to loiter near the planet the next day.
As we swelter in the summer heat, Earth reaches aphelion (point furthest from the sun) July 6 on its annual orbital journey around the sun. We will be a mere 94.5 million miles from the sun.
Venus steals your attention in the evening heavens. Find the spellbinding planet in the western sky after sunset at -4.1 magnitude (quite bright). The young sliver of a moon slides by Mercury, low on the western horizon, on July 14, and then dances with Venus the following night.
Jupiter rises around 4 p.m. now and rises two hours earlier by month’s end — and the large gaseous planet will be placed perfectly for backyard skygazing. It’s bright at -2.3 magnitude in the southeastern evening sky.
Find Saturn in the southeast after dark, just above the constellation Sagittarius’s teapot shape. It’s a zero magnitude (bright) object, less bright than Jupiter. The ringed planet now rises near 8 p.m. and sets around 5:30 a.m., but at month’s end it ascends the southeastern heavens close to 6 p.m. and sets near 3:30 a.m.
On July 13, a duly noted partial solar eclipse will occur between Australia and Antarctica. Observers in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia will be able to see the total lunar eclipse July 27. For those of us not able to directly witness the deep copper lunar eclipse — where we see the moon cross through Earth’s shadow during the afternoon hours in the Eastern time zone — catch the eclipse at goo.gl/C8bQxp.
● July 2 — “Stars Tonight” is chock-full of planets at the David M. Brown Planetarium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Arlington, adjacent to Washington-Lee High School. 7:30 p.m. $3. friendsoftheplanetarium.org.
● July 5 — “Pulsar Timing Arrays: Using the Galaxy to detect Gravitational Waves,” a talk by astrophysicist Elizabeth Ferrara at the University of Maryland’s observatory, College Park. Enjoy night-sky delights through telescopes afterward. 9 p.m. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
● July 8 — “Galaxy Evolution Through Cosmic Time — The Importance of Bars,” a talk by NASA program scientist Kartik Sheth, at the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club meeting, 163 Research Hall, George Mason University. 7 p.m. novac.com.
● July 14 — “STEAM Family Day: The Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics of Aviation and Space,” at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly. Look safely at the sun through a special telescope and learn how robots may travel to other planets. Parking $15. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. airandspace.si.edu.
● July 14 — Fill your eyes with planets and stars at “Exploring the Sky,” hosted by the National Park Service and the National Capital Astronomers, at Rock Creek Park near the Nature Center, in the field south of Military and Glover roads NW. 9 p.m. capitalastronomers.org.
● July 20 — Mars Day 2018. Relish fun activities learning about the Red Planet and talking to scientists who conduct Mars research. National Air and Space Museum. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. airandspace.si.edu.
● July 20 — “Balloon Astronomy,” a talk by doctoral candidate Arnab Dhabal, at the University of Maryland’s observatory, College Park. Scan the heavens through telescopes afterward. 9 p.m. astro.umd.edu/openhouse.