Stargazing in Fluvanna

By Pat Beers Block

Welcome to this month’s highlights of enjoyable evening and morning sky events!

This month there are a significant number of planetary, and planet/star conjunction alignments as well as titillating lunar and meteor events that will inspire us to go out into the warm summer temperatures to observe and enjoy them.   A new moon appears early in July, helping to make our July 4th fireworks the most brilliant night sky lights.  Lunar and planetary conjunctions (meaning visually close to one another) appear throughout the month, while the middle to end of the month is marked by the appearance of the Perseid meteor shower with up to 100 meteors per hour lighting the sky.      

One issue that will plague our star gazing experience this, and potentially every month, is the presence of artificial night light from business and residential lighting.  Even in our rural setting, the level of artificial ambient light is fairly significant.   As you can see from the Light Pollution Atlas (see Light Pollution Atlas 2022 ( , Fluvanna county and surrounding areas have plenty of yellow to orange zones ( see Expanded Color Scale ( ) that have approximately two to five times artificial light brightness to natural light brightness.  The result is we can’t see all of the stars and celestial events that will occur each night.  To compensate for this dilemma, you might have to be proactive in a few ways.  One possible solution might be to control some of the artificial light in your immediate neighborhood by turning off outdoor and indoor lighting before you get ready to stargaze.  But in busy town centers where light management is out of your control, another possible solution to light pollution might be for you to find a dark sky near you.  Selecting the “OpenStreetMap” from the Light Pollution Atlas gives you detailed information about lighting conditions in greater detail.  You can also find dark sky information by searching the website;  One nearby location noted by the U.S. News  is the James River State Park in Gladstone, Virgina (see  12 Top Dark Sky Parks in the U.S. ( .  

Now that we have some insight into major events of July, and some ideas about where to best view these events, let’s get ready for this month’s celestial excitement by getting your star gazing equipment ready, your cell phones fully charged and linked to Sky Guide, Sky View Lite, or any other star gazing applications that you find useful, and you resting in your favorite viewing spot to witness the magic of the night and early morning skies!   

Some fun events that will happen in July 2024 include the following events [extracted from Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events 2024 – Sea and Sky (;  NASA’s SKYCAL (; calendar; Highpoint Scientific (;; and Wikipedia].

Week 1 (July 1-6)

On July 1, the moon and Mars will be in conjunction (close to one another) and visible within the constellation Aries. On July 2, the moon will be in conjunction with Pleiades, the Seven Sisters cluster also known as Messier 45, within the constellation Taurus.  On July 3, the moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter. 

The new moon will appear on July 5, so visibility should improve with the diminished light of the moon.  It is an ideal time to view less visible celestial bodies, provided the sky is devoid of clouds.  This is a good time to see, even without binoculars, star clusters, constellations, and nearby planets.    

Additionally, Earth will be at aphelion, which means Earth is at its farthest distance from the Sun on this day.  Although Earth will be a few million miles farther away from the Sun, this distance does not impact Earth’s ambient temperatures so don’t get your winter coat out of storage just yet!

Worth noting, but unlikely to see this month, is the weak Class IV meteor shower call phi Piscids.  This meteor shower begins on June 13 and continues through July 5.  The weak meteor Class IV designation translates to fewer than two meteors/hour could be visible in a very dark sky.  

July 6 marks the conjunction of Mercury and the Beehive Cluster, also known as Messier 44.  The Beehive Cluster is located within the constellation Cancer the Crab, and is one of the largest clusters nearby, with approximately 1,000 stars within its perimeter.  On July 7, the Beehive Cluster moves into conjunction with the moon, and both will be in conjunction with Mercury.   

Weeks 2 (July 7-13)

On July 12, the moon is in the apogee position, a spacial position where the moon is the farthest from Earth.  The lunar apogee position reduces the moon’s tidal force on Earth’s tidal waters to its lowest strength.  

The moon enters its first quarter on July 13 and appears as a half-moon with the right half of the moon illuminated by the Sun’s rays.  Additionally on this date, the conjunction of the moon and the star Spica, of the constellation Virgo, occurs.  

Week 3 (July 14-20)

Mars moves into conjunction with Uranus on July 15; this event is best viewed with sky binoculars or a telescope.  

The moon is in occultation with the star Antares of the constellation Scorpius on July 17, meaning the moon moves in front of this star and hides it shortly as the moon orbits around the Earth.    

On July 17, the Perseid meteor shower begins and continues through Aug. 24.  This is a significant meteor shower that typically produces up to 100 meteors an hours.   Although the best night to view this shower is Aug. 12, you can start to see some activity this month.  

Week 4 (July 21-27)

This week starts with the moon moving into its full moon phase on July 21.  The evening sky, provided the sky is devoid of clouds or precipitation, will be delightfully illuminated with the entire moon face visible, and smiling at us with its always friendly and welcoming face.  This moon is colloquially known as the Buck Moon, a time of year when new antlers appear on a male deer’s (buck) forehead. 

On July 24, the moon moves into its perigee position, a spacial position where the moon is closest to Earth.  The lunar perigee position produces the strongest tidal force on Earth’s tidal waters.  Also, the moon is in conjunction with Saturn, and can be seen in the constellation Aquarius on this date.  

On July 25, Mars will be in conjunction with Pleiades (the Seven Sisters cluster, also known as Messier 45) in the constellation Taurus. 

The moon moves into its last quarter phase on July 27.  The moon will be illuminated on the left half of its surface.  

Week 5 (July 28-31)

On July 29 the moon returns to its conjunction with Pleiades, the Seven Sisters cluster ,also known as Messier 45, within the constellation Taurus.

The last event of the month occurs on July 31 when the apha Capricornids meteor shower is most visible.  Although this meteor shower is not very productive, producing less than five meteors per hour, the ones that are visible tend to be bright fireballs!  (   

Enjoy exploring the sky and hopefully finding the treasures noted above.  Keep looking up to the sky this month; the more you examine the sky, the more familiar you will become with planets, stars, and constellations.  You’ll be on your way to becoming an expert astronomer who can predict where different celestial bodies might be in the morning and night sky.  

Until next month, keep your eyes facing the morning and evening sky to see the wonders of our universe as we Earthlings travel through it!

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