Throughout July, Venus and Mars will be visible low in the west just after sunset. The planets will start and end the month a little distance from each other, but on the evening of July 12, they will pass about 0.5° from each other. On the same night, the Moon will be a thin crescent just a few degrees higher in the sky.

Saturn
Saturn. Photo by NASA.


Saturn will be at opposition on August 2. Opposition is the point in Saturn’s orbit when it is on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun; in other words, Earth is directly between the Sun and Saturn. The weeks around opposition are the best time to observe Saturn because the planet is closer to Earth than at other times, and it appears a little larger and brighter than usual.


Jupiter will reach opposition a couple weeks later, on August 19. Like Saturn, Jupiter will appear a little brighter and larger when it is near opposition.


The planets are not the only astronomical highlights of July and August. The Perseid meteor shower, the most popular meteor shower of the year, will peak on August 12 with a zenith hourly rate (ZHR) of about 110. The highest rates occur in the early morning hours, although some Perseid meteors appear in the late evening. This year the peak of the Perseid shower comes just a few days after New Moon, so moonlight will not interfere with observing the shower. Perseid meteors tend to be fast and bright.