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4th Of July ‘Buck Moon’ Is Third Lunar Eclipse Of 2020, Second In Weeks And First Visible

Saturday night’s ‘Buck Moon Eclipse’ Is the first of three big cosmic sights visible in the night sky in July 2020.
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July is a great month to go stargazing. Sure, the nights are pretty short at northern latitudes in the northern hemisphere, but now the summer solstice has passed, they’re getting longer.

This month begins with a “Buck Moon Eclipse,” but after that subtle sight it’s all about planets. The solar system’s two gas giants —Jupiter and Saturn—both reach opposition this month.

Add a two-for-one meteor shower, some sparkling summer constellations and a chance to see the Milky Way, and it’s going to be quite a month for backyard astronomy fans.

Here’s what not to miss in the night sky in July 2020: 

Sight #1: ‘Buck Moon Eclipse’

When: July 4/5, 2020

Visible from the whole of North America, this penumbral lunar eclipse is going to be a subtle sight. What will happen is that a slither of the full Moon—about a third of it, in fact—will appear to be a little dim for a few hours as it passes through Earth’s outer, fuzzy shadow in space—our planet’s penumbra.

It peaks at 4:29 UTC, which is 00:29 a.m. EDT on July 5 and 9:29 p.m. PDT on July 4. However, arguably more impressive will be the rise of the “Buck Moon.” Find out the exact times of moonrise and moonset for your location by using a moon calculator.

Sight #2: Jupiter and Saturn at opposition

When: July 14 and July 20, 2020

Closest to Earth and so fully illuminated by the Sun, the Solar System’s biggest planet will be at its brightest on July 14. It rises at dusk and sets at dawn. Grab some binoculars and see if you can find some its largest moons Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. They’re an easy target. 

Barely a week later, it’s Saturn’s turn. The ringed planet will look its best on July 20, though you’ll need a small telescope to glimpse its rings. It rises at dusk and sets at dawn. You might also see Titan, its largest moon. 

Although these specific dates are technically when the planets are at their very brightest, both planets will look their best during the whole of July.

Sight #3: Delta Aquarids meteor shower

When: July 28/29, 2020

Expect about 20 “shooting stars” per hour after midnight on July 29, when this debris from a comet tail strikes Earth’s atmosphere. Look towards the constellation of Aquarius for shooting stars from the Delta Aquarids, which are known for producing bright “fireballs.”

A lesser meteor shower called Alpha Capricornids also peaks tonight, possibly adding a few more shooting stars to the mix. Be outside after midnight early on July 29, 2020 for the best chance—and don’t even think about using binoculars, a telescope or looking at a smartphone.

Bonus sight: the Milky Way, Sagittarius and Scorpius

When: July 13-22, 2020

The Milky Way is easily visible in July if you stay up until midnight and you’re in a dark sky site. Look from Last Quarter Moon on July 13 through until a few days after July 20’s New Moon for the best view in dark, moonless skies. 

Those living below 50° north will get the chance to glimpse the sparkling star fields of Sagittarius and Scorpius, with the latter’s orange star Antares—the ‘rival of Mars’—a sure sign that summer is here. This is the busiest region of the night sky, with countless stars, clusters and nebula to explore with binoculars or a small telescope. It’s busy because this is the Galactic Center in the middle of the Milky Way, which appears just above the horizon for northern hemisphere viewers at the height of summer. 

How to go stargazing at home

Grab a lawn chair and a pair of binoculars, and remember to get “night vision” by spending 20 minutes outside without looking at your phone. If you can do that then you’re cut from the right cloth to be a stargazer. If, however, you need/want to use stargazing apps on your phone, turn the your phone’s brightness way down, and engage the app’s red light mode. That way your night vision will remain mostly intact. 

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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