July 2018

Each month I will describe sights of interest in the night skies of South Carolina. These sights will be broken down into four sections; what you can see with the naked eye, with binoculars, with a small refracting telescope and with a Dobsonian reflector. The best time to view the night sky is at and around the times when the Moon is not visible, what is known as a New Moon; which will occur this month on July 12th. For July, your best viewing nights will be from July 1st to the 16th. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on July 15th at 10 pm. Note: A new table of contents for earlier columns is located in this January 2018 column.



Saturn is the best planetary target for amateur telescopes, and therefore each year I repeat a Saturn column during the best months of the year to observe this planet.

The return of the planet Saturn to the evening skies continues to be of particular importance this year because the favorable tilt of the planet versus the Earth. This view will continue to be impressive for at least 3-4 more years. A classic Saturn image is shown below.

Of course, the image you will see through your amateur telescopes will be quite small and sometimes blurry, but still impressive.

When observing through my 25 X 100 mm binoculars, I can just see the rings of Saturn; they are tiny, but clearly visible. Therefore, any scope you use at 25 power and above will allow you to see the rings of Saturn; of course views are better at 50 power and above. Below are three views of Saturn through amateur telescopes. The smaller blurry image represents what you might see with a very inexpensive discount store telescope. The other two images represent views from Dobsonian reflectors ranging from 6 to 10 inches.

At various times ScienceSouth has free public astronomy events using the ScienceSouth Dobsonian reflectors. Keep checking our website for dates. We often set dates that will allow us to see spectacular the views of the mountains and craters of the Moon along with the views of the planets. Although the Moon and Jupiter both generate various amounts of excitement, I always hear the biggest “wows” when someone sees Saturn for the first time. The Moon is great, the big ball of Jupiter looks quite nice, and the small fuzzy ball of Mars is OK, and some people even enjoy the fuzzy crescent of Venus; but Saturn is special. You can view hundreds of images of Saturn on the internet, but there is something magical when your see it through your own eyes. So if you have a telescope, try viewing Saturn this month in the southern sky. If you don’t own a telescope come visit us and use our telescopes. Saturn will be in a good viewing position this month onward starting about 10 pm. Good viewing of Saturn will continue from now through August, September and on into October.

To find Saturn this month, look to the southeast to see the pale yellow planet. Locate the two easy to spot constellations; Scorpius and Sagittarius. As you may recall, the constellation Sagittarius is best known for the eight brightest stars that form the shape of a teapot. The planet Saturn will be found right above the lid of the teapot asterism, see image below.

I use a trick, which may help you when viewing Saturn, or any bright planet. When viewing bright planets through some amateur telescopes, the contrast of a very bright planet against a black sky can produce a glare, which may prevent a clear view of the planet. A simple way to resolve this problem is to view the planet before the sky becomes black; during twilight. Example: This month when you go out to view Saturn, begin viewing in the twilight, for July, start about 9 pm. Note, in August and September, Saturn will be much higher in the sky and even brighter therefore this twilight viewing trick will be even more useful.

Summer Messiers:

If you are using seven or ten power binoculars, note that if you place Saturn towards the left of your field of view, then two interesting Messier Objects will be toward the right of your field of view. These two objects are M8 the “Lagoon Nebula, and M20, the “Trifid Nebula. The nebulosity of M8 is readily visible. However, the nebulosity of the Trifid M20 is difficult to detect with simple viewing equipment. The Trifid is a cluster and is similar to the Pleaides. The Pleaides cluster also has nebulosity, but I have never been able to see it with any of our scopes.

Using your seven or ten power binoculars, place Saturn towards the right of your field of view, then you should see Messier 22 down and to your left. M22 is one of the best globular clusters visible in the northern hemisphere. It is best see through a good Dob telescope; see below.

Return to Saturn with your binoculars and notice that it is near the center of the Milky Way, and therefore has many background stars. There are also several Messiers in the central region of the Milky Way. For fun, just move your binoculars slowly upward and slowly side to side, and you may see as many as eight Messiers, all open clusters. Just go find them without knowing their names, and then if you wish look them up on a star chart later.


Naked Eye Sights: The Summer Milky Way and the constellations of summer

Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power): Saturn next to M8, M20 and M22.

Big Binocular Sights (18 to 25 power): Saturn next to M8, M20 and M22.

Telescope Sights (60-100mm): Saturn and Jupiter. Mars is also visible this month, but it not too impressive through amateur scopes; check it out

Dobsonian telescope (6 -8 inch): Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and M22.


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