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The Night Sky of June

Dr. Wayne Wooten
Professor of Astronomy 

For June 2016, the Moon will be new on June 5th. It will be waxing in the evening sky for the next two weeks; the first quarter moon will be passing 1.5 degrees south of Jupiter on June 11th. The waxing gibbous moon will be seven degrees north of Mars on June 17th, and the Full Moon, the Honey Moon, will three degrees north of Saturn on June 19th. Locally, summer solstice occurs at 5:34 PM CDT on June 20th. The moon is last quarter on June 27th, rising at midnight.

While the naked eye, dark adapted by several minutes away from any bright lights, is a wonderful instrument to stare up into deep space, far beyond our own Milky Way, binoculars are better for spotting specific deep sky objects. For a detailed map of northern hemisphere skies, about May 31st visit the www.skymaps.com

Website. There is also a video exploring the June 2016 sky from the Hubble Space Telescope website at: http://hubblesite.org.

As June starts, Mercury is briefly visible in the dawn sky, rising 25 degrees west of the Sun on June 5th. On May 9th, Mercury passed between us and the Sun, something it will not do again until 2019. Venus presently lies near superior conjunction, on the far side of the Sun and lost in its glare. But the other three planets are all now well placed for viewing in the evening sky this month!

Mars was at opposition on May 21st, but will still be bright and close to us for most of June. It is the bright red object west of the claws of Scorpius in the southeastern sky at sunset. Use high power with your scope to spot the polar caps and surface detail and clouds when the planet is highest in the southern sky near midnight. This is the best time to enjoy Mars in several years. It is 18" across at opposition, and still 16" across at the end of June.

Jupiter is still well placed for observation in the hind feet of Leo, about half way between Regulus and Spica. It is the brightest planet out now, and any small scope will also spot its four Galilean moons. The Great Red Spot is unusually red now, and should also be spotted among its clouds at 100X with even small scopes.

But in the SE, Saturn, just north of Antares, the heart of Scorpius, is a great show all night. It comes to opposition, rising in the SE at sunset, on June 3rd. Saturnís rings are now open about 26 degrees; they will continue opening up wider until 2017, when they are tilted 27 degrees toward us and the Sun. You may also see some belts and zones on the planetís disk. The largest, Titan, will be seen in any small telescope, but others will need larger scopes to spot.

The winter constellations are being swallowed up in the Sunís glare, but you might spot Sirius low in the SW as June begins. Sirius vanishes into the Sunís glare by mid-June, and this sets the period as "Dog Days", when Sirius lies lost in the Sunís glare. In reality, Sirius is about 20x more luminous than our star, but also lies eight light years distant, while our star is eight light minutes away from us.

The brightest star in the NW is Capella, distinctively yellow in color. It is a giant star, almost exactly the same temperature as our Sun, but about 100X more luminous. Just south of it are the stellar twins, the Gemini, with Castor closer to Capella, and Pollux closer to the Little Dog Star, Procyon. By the end of June, all the winter stars, like Sirius, are vanished behind the Sun.

Overhead, the Big Dipper rides high. Good scouts know to take its leading pointers north to Polaris, the famed Pole Star. For us, it sits 35 degrees high in the north, while the rotating earth beneath makes all the other celestial bodies spin around it from east to west.

If you drop south from the bowl of the Big Dipper, Leo the Lion rides high. Note the Egyptian Sphinx is based on the shape of this Lion in the sky. Taking the arc in the Dipperís handle, we "arc" SE to bright orange Arcturus, the brightest star of Spring.

Spike south to Spica, the hot blue star in Virgo (with Mars now to its lower left), then curve to Corvus the Crow, a four-sided grouping. It is above Corvus, in the arms of Virgo, where our large scopes will show members of the Virgo Supercluster, a swarm of over a thousand galaxies about 50 million light years away from us.

To the east, Hercules is rising, with the nice globular cluster M-13 marked on your sky map and visible in binocs. This rich cluster is one of the top telescopic sights in good-sized scopes.

The brightest star of the northern hemisphere, Vega rises in the NE as twilight deepens. Twice as hot as our Sun, it appears blue-white, like most bright stars. Its constellation, tiny Lyra, looks like a parallogram just south of Vega, but was the harp of Orpheus in Greek legends

In the southeast, Antares rises about the same time as Vega does, in the brightest of all constellations, Scorpius. Antares appears reddish (its Greek name means rival of Ares or Mars to the Romans) because it is half as hot as our yellow Sun; it is bright because it is a bloated red supergiant, big enough to swallow up our solar system all the way out to Saturnís orbit! Very bright red Mars lies west of the Scorpionís claws in June, while Saturn lies north of Antares, and is about as bright as Antares, but more yellow in color.

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