Stargazers, mark your calendars for these astronomical summer sky events in July

Mushroomrock
Mushroom Rock in Brookville, KS. Photo by Chuck McClary, McClary Photography

Summers in Kansas City are typically filled with trips to the farmers market, weekends at the lake and Friday nights at the K.

This summer is, of course, anything but typical.

So instead, try looking up to the night sky, as people did in the days before on-demand streaming and video games.

“Personally, summer is my favorite time to watch the skies,” says Chuck Leary, an educator at the Cosmosphere Planetarium in Hutchinson. “The big reason is the Milky Way core, which is visible toward the south during the summer.”

For Kansas City stargazers, July 2020 happens to be particularly packed with notable astronomical events, including a partial lunar eclipse, a meteor shower and some top-notch constellations.

Coreandwindmill

Milky Way core. Photo by Chuck McClary, McClary Photography

Partial Lunar Eclipse

On July 5 at approximately 11 pm, a partial lunar eclipse will be visible from Kansas City. A partial eclipse happens when the Earth comes between the sun and the moon but the three bodies do not make a straight line.

Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower

One of the biggest astronomical events of July is the Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower. The shower starts on July 12 and goes through August, with a peak on July 28 and 29, when you can expect about twenty bright meteors streaking across the sky every hour. The meteors will be concentrated in the south but will fall across the sky.

Saturn and Jupiter

In mid-July, the two biggest planets in our solar system will be more visible from Earth as their orbits bring them closest to Earth. To find it: Look to the southeast for two bright lights that are not twinkling like stars. Saturn will appear very large and golden, and Jupiter should be easy to find, as it is the second brightest light in the sky.

Scorpius

If you or your kids love the Disney movie Moana, you may enjoy looking for the Scorpius constellation at its peak visibility. The shape of the constellation is a near-direct replica of Maui’s hook from the movie. To find it: Face south and look for a ‘J’ shape near the horizon. When you see a red star, you know you’ve found it.

Hercules

Named after the hero from Greek mythology, Hercules is another major constellation that becomes more visible during the summer. This constellation looks like a square with four legs coming off it, with the center square being the brightest part. To find it: Look straight up and locate a square of bright stars. This is the center of the constellation. From there you should be able to see the rest of it.

Milky Way

The Milky Way isn’t just the caramelly, nuggety center of a candy bar. It’s the center of our galaxy where there’s a supermassive black hole. When you see something that looks like a cloud or fog amongst the stars, you’ve found it. To find it: The easiest way to see the Milky Way core in the summer is to face south and find the Scorpius constellation, then look to the left.

Sagittarius

One of the most iconic constellations in a summer sky, this constellation is easily identified by its teapot shape. It’s located very close to the Scorpius constellation. To find it: Face south, locate the Scorpius constellation, and look for the teapot shape that’s right next to it.

Star Gazing

Illustration by Natalie Rice

Where & When to Go

To stargaze seriously, you want to get at least an hour away from any large city, half an hour from a medium-sized town and about fifteen minutes from a small town. A field that’s down a dirt road or the shores of a country fishing lake would be ideal.

For stargazing in KC, astronomer Chuck Leary recommends driving south of the city instead of west or east. “This way when you look south toward the Milky Way core, KC’s light pollution will be behind you rather than blocking your view.”

You need to give your eyes time to adapt to the dark, which can take a half hour. The best time to start stargazing is an hour or two after dark.

The moon also produces its own light pollution, so your best views will come during the new moon.

First time Stargazing? Here’s what to bring:

  A star chart, or apps like Starwalk and Google Sky Maps to help you decipher what you are seeing in the night sky.

  Binoculars. A telescope isn’t necessary but can be fun.

  Blankets and a sweatshirt. Nights in the Midwest can be chilly, and you want to be able to enjoy the stars as long as possible.

  A compass. A lot of directions to find constellations use north, south, east and west, so having a compass handy will make it easier to locate them.

  A red-light flashlight. A normal flashlight will ruin your eyes’ adaptation to the dark. Use a red light or tape a red piece of paper over a normal flashlight to maintain your night vision.

  Bug spray. It’s summer and you’re probably in a field… do the math.

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