■ 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 is sitting barely above the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot.

Jupiter and Mars at dawn, June 22, 2024
Jupiter is getting a little higher in bright dawn every morning. Binoculars help.


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


■ 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 upper left from the Sickle, to his tail tip Denebola, 2nd magnitude, the brightest of Leo's stars after Regulus. Leo will soon tread offstage into the sunset.


■ After dark look south for orange Antares, "the Betelgeuse of summer," nearing the meridian. (Both are 1st-magnitude "red" supergiants). Around and upper right of Antares are the other, whiter stars of upper Scorpius, forming their distinctive pattern. The rest of the Scorpion runs down toward the horizon, then left.

■ Also right after dark, spot Arcturus way up high toward the south. Three fists below it is Spica. A fist and a half to Spica's lower right, four-star Corvus, the Crow, is heading down and away.


■ This is the time of year when the two brightest stars of summer, Arcturus and Vega, are about equally high overhead shortly after dark: Arcturus toward the southwest, Vega toward the east.

Arcturus and Vega are 37 and 25 light-years away, respectively. They represent the two commonest types of naked-eye star: a yellow-orange K giant and a white A main-sequence star. They're 150 and 50 times brighter than the Sun, respectively — which, combined with their nearness, is why they dominate the evening sky.


■ Saturn and the waning gibbous Moon rise at nearly the same time around midnight tonight. Saturn will be about 5° or 6° left of the Moon.

By dawn Thursday morning they'll be high in the southeast, drawing closer together.

The Moon will go on to occult Saturn in broad daylight Thursday for most of the western US and Mexico (map and timetables), but Saturn has such a low surface brightness (being almost 10 a.u. from the Sun), and the Moon and Saturn will be so much lower in the sky than the Sun, that you almost certainly won't be able to glimpse a trace of Saturn even with a large telescope. New Zealanders, however, get to see the occultation in darkness (around 13h June 27th UT).


■ More on Arcturus and Vega: Star colors are mostly subtle, and different people have an easier or harder time seeing them. To me, the tints of bright stars show a little better on a late-twilight sky background than in a fully dark sky.

For instance, Vega is white with just a touch of icy blue. Arcturus is yellow-orange, a tint that S&T columnist Fred Schaaf called "champagne colored." Do their colors stand out a little better for you in late twilight than in dark night?

Binoculars, of course, make star colors much easier.


■ High in the east, the Summer Triangle holds sway after dark. Its top star is Vega, the brightest on the whole eastern side of the sky. The brightest star to Vega's lower left is Deneb. Farther to Vega's lower right is Altair.

With the Moon gone, you can see the Milky Way (if you're not too light-polluted) running grandly just inside the Triangle's bottom edge. This stretch of the Milky Way includes the Cygnus Star Cloud, one of its richest regions. Because when we look toward Cygnus, we're looking downstream through the local arm of our galaxy.

As evening grows late and even Altair rises high, look left of Altair, by hardly more than a fist, for the compact little constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin.

Did you get it? Then try for even fainter, smaller Sagitta, the Arrow. It's to Altair's upper left a little closer to it. The Arrow points toward lower left, past the head of Delphinus.

■ The last-quarter Moon (exactly last quarter at 5:53 p.m. EDT) rises late tonight, at about 1 a.m. local daylight-saving time. Watch for it to come up below the Great Square of Pegasus. Saturn is about two fists at arm's length to the Moon's upper right. By the time dawn begins, you can see that the Moon is not quite halfway between Saturn and Mars.

Mars and Jupiter in early dawn, June 29, 2024
Far lower left of Mars, Jupiter has been getting higher and easier low in the dawn. Welcome it into its 2024-25 apparition.


■ After nightfall, look for the Big Dipper hanging straight down in the northwest. Its bottom two stars, the Pointers, point to the right toward modest Polaris, the end of the Little Dipper's handle.

This is the time of year when, at the end of twilight, the Little Dipper floats straight upward from Polaris — perhaps like a helium balloon escaped up into the night from some June backyard party. Through light pollution or moonlight, however, all you may see of the Little Dipper are Polaris at its bottom and Kochab, the lip of the Little Dipper's bowl, at the top. The rest of its stars are fairly dim at 3rd to 5th magnitude.


Mercury and Venus very low to the WNW horizon in bright twilight, June 30, 2024
If you examine the WNW horizon in bright twilight day by day, when will first pick up Mercury? Venus?

■ Dangling lower right from bright Vega high in the east are the main stars of Lyra, forming a small triangle and parallelogram. The two brightest stars of this pattern after Vega are the two forming the bottom of the parallelogram: Beta and Gamma Lyrae, or Sheliak and Sulafat. They're currently lined up vertically. Beta is the one on top.

Beta Lyrae is an eclipsing binary. Compare it to Gamma whenever you look up at Lyra. Normally Beta is only a trace dimmer than Gamma. Eventually, however, you'll catch Beta when it is quite obviously dimmer than usual.

This Week's Planet Roundup

Mercury and Venus are hidden in the glare of the Sun.

Mars (magnitude 1.0, in Aries) is low in the east just before and during dawn. Look for it four or five fists at arm's length to the lower left of Saturn.

Jupiter (magnitude –2.0, in Taurus) is much deeper in the glow of dawn, about two fists lower left of Mars.

Saturn (magnitude 1.1, near the Aquarius-Pisces border) rises around midnight and shines well up in the southeast before and during early dawn. 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're casting southward onto the planet. South here is up. Christopher Go, living 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 unfortunately be too close to the Sun to observe.

Uranus, magnitude 5.8, is between Jupiter and Mars but is still too tangled up in the glow of dawn for something that faint.

Neptune, magnitude 7.9 in Pisces, is about 10° lower left of Saturn before dawn begins if you have large binoculars or a telescope, a detailed enough finder chart showing Neptune's current location among the many similarly faint stars around it, 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 as 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.

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


Image of misha17


June 24, 2024 at 2:56 pm

Re: Saturn and the Moon, August 26th:
As I posted last week, although the occultation itself might not be visible from North America, you might be able to use the conjunction to track Saturn in the predawn sky and find it with binoculars and a telescope shortly after sunrise when the Sun is above the horizon but it's brightness (and the overall sky's brightness) is still dimmed by thecthicker atmosphere near the horizon. Back in January, I was able to track Antares - which at magnitude 1 is similar in brightness to what Saturn is now - up to 10 minutes before sunrise, in very clear skies, after it had emerged from a lunar occulation and was still close to the dark lunar limb. Saturn and the moon were only about 40 degrees from the sun; this week's conjunction will occur about 90 degrees from the Sun, so the sky will be darker due to the greater solar separation and the darker sky 90s due to polarization of sky light.

Under similar circumstances, using a telephoto lens, an observer in Italy was able to photo Spica next to the Moon n the late afternoon sky shortly before sunset, during a close conjunction with that star (the Moon had occulted Spica a few thousand miles away in Russia at the time).

Good Luck to any one trying for a daytime viewing!

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June 24, 2024 at 2:58 pm

the last paragraph should read

"... was able to photo Spica next to the last-quarter Moon ..."

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June 24, 2024 at 6:29 pm

My viewing of Antares back in January 10 minutes before sunrise was not a naked-eye sighting, I was using 7x50 binoculars, so visual aid will also be required if you try to view Saturn after sunrise this week.

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