FRIDAY, JUNE 14

■ As we count down the last six days to summer, astronomically defined (the solstice is June 20th; believe it or not this is still only spring!), the Summer Triangle has climbed to stand high and proud in the east after dark.

Its top star is bright Vega. Deneb is the brightest star to Vega's lower left, by 2 or 3 fists at arm's length. Look for Altair farther to Vega's lower right. Altair is midway in brightness between Vega and Deneb.

By summer's end, the Triangle will be overhead right after dark.

SATURDAY, JUNE 15

■ When the stars come out for North America tonight, you'll find the Moon shining nearly midway between Spica to its lower left and fainter Gamma Virginis (Porrima) to its upper right; see below. Gamma Vir is a lovely, equal-brightness double star for telescopes, separation 3.4 arcseconds this year; they're slowly widening. The pair is oriented almost north-south.

Waxing gibbous Moon passing Spica, June 15-16, 2024
When the Moon steps past Spica in early or mid-June, it's always waxing gibbous. Do you know why? 1

SUNDAY, JUNE 16

■ In these warm late twilights, look very low in the north-northwest for wintry Capella very out of season. The farther north you are, the less low it will appear. You may need binoculars, and for the South it's just gone. But if you're as far north as Montreal or either of the Portlands (Oregon or Maine), Capella is actually circumpolar.

■ Looking higher, the Big Dipper hangs way up in the northwest as the stars come out. The Dipper's Pointers, currently its bottom two stars, point to the right toward Polaris. Above Polaris, and looking very similar to it, is Kochab, the lip of the Little Dipper's bowl; the rest of the Little Dipper is dim. Kochab stands precisely above Polaris around the end of twilight.

MONDAY, JUNE 17

■ Have you ever knowingly seen even a bit of the constellation Centaurus? Famous Alpha Centauri never gets above the horizon unless you’re as far south as San Antonio or Orlando (latitude 29° N). But fairly easy from much farther north is Theta Centauri, magnitude 2.0.

This evening the Moon makes it simple to find. Right after nightfall, look 19° (nearly two fists) straight down from the Moon. No other star in that area is quite as bright. Theta Cen is pale orange, as binoculars will confirm. It's at declination –36.5°, hardly farther south than the bottom of the Sagittarius Teapot. It's even 1° less far south than the familiar Cat's Eyes in the tail of Scorpius.

Theta Cen marks the top of the stick-figure Centaur's head. Add another constellation to your life list, at least of those where you've identified some fragment.

TUESDAY, JUNE 18

■ After nightfall is complete, Vega is the brightest star very high in the east. Barely lower left of it is 4th-magnitude Epsilon Lyrae, the Double-Double. Epsilon forms one corner of a roughly equilateral triangle with Vega and Zeta Lyrae. The triangle is less than 2° on a side, hardly the width of your thumb at arm's length.

Binoculars easily resolve Epsilon. And a 4-inch telescope at 100× or more should resolve each of Epsilon's wide components into a tight pair.

Zeta Lyrae is also a double star for binoculars; much tougher, but plainly resolved in a telescope.

Delta Lyrae, below Zeta, is a much wider and easier pair, reddish orange and pale blue.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19

■ The waxing gibbous Moon tonight shines among the stars of upper Scorpius as shown below. Orange Antares is about 3° or 4° to the Moon's left or lower left, and Delta Scorpii, the next brightest star in the area, is a somewhat similar distance above the Moon or to its upper right. Delta is the middle star of the upper row of three in the graphic. Cover the bright Moon with your finger to get a better look at the stars around it.

Moon crossing Scorpius, June 18-20, 2024
The nearly full Moon Wednesday night hangs with Antares and Delta Scorpii, among other stars of upper Scorpius. Delta Sco, a long-term variable, is currently much the brightest of the row of three stars above the Moon that marks Scorpius's head. (Its brightness on this map is decades old.)

THURSDAY, JUNE 20

■ Happy solstice! At 4:45 p.m. EDT this afternoon, the Sun reaches its farthest north position in Earth's sky and begins its six-month return southward. Astronomical summer begins in the Northern Hemisphere, winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

For us northerners, this is the year's longest day and shortest night.

It's also the day when (in the north temperate latitudes) the midday Sun passes the closest it ever can to being straight overhead, and thus when your shadow becomes the shortest it can ever be at your location. This happens at your local apparent [solar] noon, which is probably rather far removed from noon in your civil (clock) time.

And if you have a good west-northwest horizon (in mid-northern latitudes), mark carefully where the Sun sets. In a few days you should be able to detect that the Sun is once again starting to set a just little south (left) of that point.

FRIDAY, JUNE 21

■ Full Moon (exactly full at 9:09 p.m. EDT). After dark, cover the Moon with your finger to get a better look at the stars around it. You'll see that the Moon sits barely above the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot.

Jupiter is getting a little higher in bright dawn every morning. Even so, bring binoculars.

SATURDAY, JUNE 22

■ Now the Moon shines barely below the Teapot's handle through the evening hours.

SUNDAY, JUNE 23

■ Leo the Lion is mostly a constellation of late winter and spring. But he's not gone yet. As twilight ends look due west, somewhat low, for Regulus, his brightest and now lowest star: the forefoot of the lion stick figure.

The Sickle of Leo extends upper right from Regulus. The rest of the Lion's constellation figure runs for almost three fist-widths to the upper left from the Sickle, to his tail tip Denebola, the highest of his stick-figure's stars. Leo will soon be treading offstage into the sunset.


This Week's Planet Roundup

Mars and Saturn are in nice view just before and during early dawn. The highest and easiest is Saturn in the southeast, magnitude 1.1. Its background is dim Aquarius. Find the Great Square of Pegasus two fists upper left of it, and Fomalhaut sparkling two fists to Saturn's lower right.

Saturn with rings nearly edge-on, June 1, 2024
Saturn's rings this season are nearly edge-on! Note the stark black shadow they cast southward onto the planet. South here is up. Christopher Go, in the low-latitude Philippines, took this image shortly before sunrise on June 1st.

The rings will turn exactly edge-on March 23, 2025 when Saturn will be too close to the Sun to observe.

Look for Mars far lower left of Saturn, by a good four or five fists at arm's length. It's almost due east. Mars is magnitude 1.9. About a fist above Mars is Alpha Arietis (Hamal), magnitude 2.0.

And Jupiter is emerging into view almost three fists lower left of Mars, shining through the horizon murk at magnitude –2.0 as dawn brightens.

Mercury, Venus, and Uranus remain hidden in the Sun's glare.

Neptune, 8th magnitude in Pisces, is about 10° lower left of Saturn before dawn begins for the pre-dawn adventurer with large binoculars or a telescope, a detailed enough finder chart showing Neptune's current location among the many similarly faint stars, and skill in using sky charts with binocs or a scope.


All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions and graphics that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America.

Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) is Universal Time minus 4 hours. UT is also known as UTC, GMT, or Z time.


Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.

This is an outdoor nature hobby. For a more detailed constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy.

Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a much more detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The basic standard is the Pocket Sky Atlas (in either the original or Jumbo Edition), which shows all stars to magnitude 7.6.

Pocket Sky Atlas cover, Jumbo edition
The Pocket Sky Atlas plots 30,796 stars to magnitude 7.6, and hundreds of telescopic galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae among them. Shown here is the Jumbo Edition, which is in hard covers and enlarged for easier reading outdoors by red flashlight. Sample charts. More about the current editions.

Next up is the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0, plotting stars to magnitude 8.5; nearly three times as many. (It's currently out of print.) The next up are the even larger Interstellarum atlas (stars to magnitude 9.5) or Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to mag 9.75). And read How to Use a Star Chart with a Telescope. It applies just as much to charts on your phone or tablet, the preferred versions for many observers these days, as it does to charts on paper.

You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook. A beloved old classic is the three-volume Burnham's Celestial Handbook. An impressive more modern one is the big Night Sky Observer's Guide set (2+ volumes) by Kepple and Sanner. The top of the hill for total astro-geeks is the Annals of the Deep Sky series, currently at 10 volumes as it slowly works forward through the constellations alphabetically. So far it's only up to F.

Can computerized telescopes replace charts? Not for beginners I don't think, and not for scopes on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically. Unless, that is, you prefer spending your time getting finicky technology to work rather than learning the sky. And as Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand and a curious mind." Without these, "the sky never becomes a friendly place."

If you do get a computerized scope, make sure its drives can be disengaged so you can swing it around and point it readily by hand when you want to, rather than only slowly by the electric motors (which eat batteries).

However, finding faint telescopic objects the old-fashioned way with charts isn't simple either. Learn the essential tricks at How to Use a Star Chart with a Telescope. It applies just as much to charts on a screen as on paper.


Audio sky tour. Out under the evening sky with your
earbuds in place, listen to Kelly Beatty's monthly
podcast tour of the naked-eye heavens above. It's free.



"The dangers of not thinking clearly are much greater now than ever before. It's not that there's something new in our way of thinking, it's that credulous and confused thinking can be much more lethal in ways it was never before."
            — Carl Sagan, 1996

"Facts are stubborn things."
             John Adams, 1770


1. Why is the Moon always this phase when you see it near Spica at this time of year? Because at this time of year, Spica is still more than 90° from the Sun (132° on June 1st, 111° on the 15th). When the Moon is more than 90° from the Sun, it is gibbous (or full), because we see more than half of its globe sunlit.


Comments


Image of misha17

misha17

June 14, 2024 at 1:49 pm

Busy week for comments! And they are all related to each other:

1.
"SATURDAY, JUNE 15
■ When the stars come out for North America tonight, you'll find the Moon shining nearly midway between Spica to its lower left and fainter Gamma Virginis (Porrima) to its upper right ...".

As I commented last week, this week's Moon-Spica conjunction begins a series of occultations of Spica. This month's occultation is mainly visible from Russia, but the occultation on the night of July 13-14 will be visible from most of North America and the Caribbean, although it will be in bright evening twilight along the west coasts of those areas.

The series begins in northern latitudes but moves south as the Moon's descending node (where its orbit crosses the Ecliptic) passes by the star moving westward.
The final occultation in the series is visible from Antartica a little over a year later in July 2025

2.
"WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19
■ The waxing gibbous Moon tonight shines among the stars of upper Scorpius as shown below. Orange Antares is about 3° or 4° to the Moon's left or lower left ..."

Unlike the Spica occultation series which only lasts a year, the Antares series, which began last August, will last another 3 years. It also began in northern latitudes, and later occultations are viewable farther south. Midway through the series, occultations will be visible in far southern latitudes, then the series will start being visible farther north again as the low point in the Moon's orbit (relative to the Ecliptic) approaches then passes Antares.

3.
"THURSDAY, JUNE 20

■ Happy solstice! At 4:45 p.m. EDT this afternoon, the Sun reaches its farthest north position in Earth's sky and begins its six-month return southward. "

"FRIDAY, JUNE 21

■ Full Moon (exactly full at 9:09 p.m. EDT). After dark, cover the Moon with your finger to get a better look at the stars around it. You'll see that the Moon sits barely above the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot."

The Full Moon this month lies almost near the December Solstice point, so it will be low in the sky (as seen from the Northern Hemisphere), just as the Sun appears to be during the Winter, 23 degrees below the Celestial Equator.

However, currently the tilt of the Moon's orbit has its orbital low point passing near the December Solstice point, so the Moon will be lower than usual, 28 degrees below the Celestial Equator. It's the opposite of the very "high Moon" which occurred on December 26th
(https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-news/observing-news/this-weeks-sky-at-a-glance-december-22-31/)

For observers in the Southern Hemisphere, the situation is reversed: the December Solstice point marks the beginning of Summer when the Sun is highest in the sky and closest to the zenith "down under", and this month's Full Moon will pass 5 degrees closer to the zenith than usual.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Image of misha17

misha17

June 14, 2024 at 1:59 pm

Re: item #2 - I forgot to mention where the Antares will be visible; it will be in the West-Central Pacific east of New Guineau and Australia
https://in-the-sky.org/news.php?id=20240620_16_100#google_vignette

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Image of misha17

misha17

June 16, 2024 at 11:29 pm

Not only will this week's Full Moon be the lowest in 18 years when it crosses the meridian, but it be the furthest south that a Full Moon moonrise (furthest southeast) and moonset (furthest southwest )can occur.

Of course, the very low point will occur near the December Solstice point in Sagittarius for several months, but this month it will occur at Full Moon. For the next few months the Moon will be in Sagittarius in the evening, but the lunar phased will be waxing gibbous during the (Northern Hemisphere) Summer, then waxing crescent during the Fall. Moonrise will occur during the days, but we can watch it set far in the Soutwest figuring the evening.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Image of misha17

misha17

June 16, 2024 at 11:39 pm

Sorry for all the "autocorrect" typos, especially the last sentence, which should read,
"... we can watch it set far in the Southwest during the evening."

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Image of mary beth

mary beth

June 17, 2024 at 12:06 am

Love this information. Watched the moon and Spica travel together last night and tonight, so beautiful, the moon looked close to us! Spectacular!

Eighteen years is a long time.

SpellWRECK gets me almost every time. I wish we could edit comments.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Image of misha17

misha17

June 14, 2024 at 3:23 pm

Re: "Mercury, Venus, and Uranus remain hidden in the Sun's glare." -

1. An observer was able to photograph Venus just after sunset on June 8th, just a few days after it passed behind the Sun and entered the (bright) evening sky.
Images here, via Spaceweather:

https://spaceweathergallery2.com/indiv_upload.php?upload_id=209331

2. Videos from the SOHO telescope show Mercury closing in on the Sun and Venus.
The latest video from June 1th shows Mercury to the right (West) of the Sun, moving left (eastward). Venus is to the left (East) of the Sun.
https://soho.nascom.nasa.gov/data/LATEST/current_c3.mp4

Videos next week should show Mercury and Venus in conjunction to the left (East) of the Sun on June 17th

You must be logged in to post a comment.

You must be logged in to post a comment.