The June Skies
“Common sense is not so common.”
The planet Mercury comes into view at mid-month, just above the west-northwestern horizon during evening twilight. Its visibility will increase each evening as it climbs further away from the sun. At the end of June, Mercury sets 90 minutes after the sun.
That much brighter object higher in the western sky is Venus. Right now Venus is the brightest object in our entire night sky. Toward the end of the month, it will begin to drop somewhat lower in the sky each night.
Mars rises soon after midnight in early June but 90 minutes earlier at the end of the month. It undergoes dramatic changes in size and brightness as it nears opposition in late July. It will be unusually close to Earth at this opposition and astronomers have been looking forward to this event for years. During June it will more than double in brightness but will remain low in the sky for observers in the Northern Hemisphere.
The giant planet Jupiter reaches opposition May 8. On that night it will be directly opposite the sun in our sky, rising in the east as the sun sets in the west and setting in the west as the sun rises in the east. On that date Jupiter will also make its closest approach to Earth for the year and will be brighter than usual. This is a perfect time to explore Jupiter’s moons and the various cloud belts in its atmosphere with a small telescope.
Saturn rises just after 10 p.m. and its ring system is truly spectacular. Its brightest moon, Titan, can be seen through any size telescope while a 4-inch instrument is needed to see Tethya, Dione and Rhea closer to the planet. Saturn remains low in the sky throughout the month.
Distant Uranus can be spotted in binoculars in late June during morning twilight. The planet appears as a tiny blue- green disk in telescopes.
Remote Neptune can be glimpsed with a small telescope in the constellation Aquarius. Its small disk reveals a blue-gray color.
The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower occurs June 5 in the evening and continues into the morning of the 6. Approximately 30 meteors per hour will produce streaks of light as they burn up in our atmosphere. They represent debris from the comet Halley which hurtled past Earth in 1986.
Editor’s note: This monthly guide to the stars is from the Marshall Martz Memorial Astronomical Association and The Post -Journal. For further information, contact the M.M.M.A.A. at www.martzobservatory.org.