Highlights for the June Night Sky
Brought to you by: Bob Haskins @ Waterville Estates
Do your part and help preserve the dark skies that we are fortunate to have in Waterville Estates. Turn off all unnecessary outdoor lighting.
Go outside tonight and discover the Night Sky
The Planets: “Evenings on the Ecliptic” The planets follow an imaginary line in the sky called the ecliptic.
Venus is a “must see” for the month of June. It will be at its highest of the year as it shines brightly in the west at dusk. It will brighten to -4.1 which outshines anything else in the nighttime sky except for the Moon. Also, look for the two brightest stars of the Twins constellation, Caster and Pollux which will be to the right of Venus.
Mercury can also be seen at twilight by mid-month low in the west to the right of Venus. Remember, Mercury is ordinarily a tough planet to spot. Take advantage of this opportunity to view it.
Jupiter is visible in the SE at nightfall all month long and is highest around 10pm.
Stars and Constellations:
The brilliant constellations of summer have begun their ascent into the evening sky. Soon we will once again marvel at our old friends, but for now let us focus on our new friend from last month, the star Arcturus. Located almost directly overhead this month, Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern hemisphere*at this time of year and is part of the constellation Bootes, the “Herdsman” or “Ox Driver”. The star was well known to the ancients and may well have been the first star given a name. Arcturus means “guardian of the bear” or the Big Dipper as we commonly know it as today. To find Arcturus, “follow the arc to Arcturus” and remember that the arc refers to the handle of the dipper.
To the left of Bootes is the the constellation Corona Borealis or Northern Crown. The Greeks called it a wreath, the Arabs a broken dish and the Shawnee Indians the Heavenly Sisters, but crown it is. Use a modest pair of binoculars to see all seven stars.
The summer solstice occurs on the 21th of the month. This marks the longest day for us in the northern hemisphere and it is the furthest north the sun gets on its yearly journey.
* Refer to the diagram taken from Chet Raymo’s book, 365 Starry Nights
Through a quirk of nature called “gravitational lensing,” a natural lens in space, amplified a very distant star’s light. Astronomers using Hubble took advantage of this phenomenon to pinpoint the faraway star and set a new distance record for the farthest individual star ever seen. They also used the distant star to test one theory of dark matter and to probe the make-up of a galaxy cluster. The team dubbed the star “Icarus,” after the Greek mythological character who flew too near the Sun on wings of feathers and wax that melted.
Comment / Factoid of the Month:
Keep a pair of binoculars handy, they are a great way to view the stars and planets. They have a wide field of view which makes it easy for you to spot planets and star groupings. An example of this; locate the handle of the dipper and follow the stars along the arc and you will see a double star. They are Mizar and Alcor To the naked eye they look like one star but with binoculars, that one star becomes two or a double star.
Astronomy Websites to explore:
- heavens-above.com (satellites that are passing overhead)
- com (The evening sky map for the month)
- nasa.gov (sign up for alerts for the International Space Station passing overhead)