FRIDAY, JUNE 3
■ After dark, Vega shines as 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 binocular pair, orange and blue.
■ The waxing Moon this evening shines upper left of Pollux and Castor, as shown below.
SATURDAY, JUNE 4
■ After dark, the crescent Moon forms a long isosceles (two sides equal) triangle with Regulus and Gamma Leonis to the Moon's upper left. The Moon marks the long end of the triangle. Gamma Leonis is a bit fainter than Regulus.
Tomorrow evening the triangle will be much shorter and flatter, but still isosceles.
■ As we count down the last 17 days to official summer (the solstice comes on June 21st ), the Summer Triangle stands 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 a greater distance to Vega's lower right. Altair shines midway in brightness between Vega and Deneb.
If you have a dark enough sky, the Milky Way runs across the lower part of the Triangle, from side to side.
SUNDAY, JUNE 5
■ Now the Moon shines just 5° from Regulus and from Gamma Leonis. They're lower left of it and above it, respectively.
MONDAY, JUNE 6
■ The Moon forms yet another isosceles triangle with Gamma Leonis and Regulus. This time the stars are to the Moon's right and lower right.
TUESDAY, JUNE 7
■ The Big Dipper has swung around to hang down by its handle high in the northwest. The middle star of its handle is Mizar, with tiny little Alcor right next to it. On which side of Mizar should you look for Alcor? As always, on the side toward Vega! Which is now the brightest star in the east.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 8
■ Soon after dark, the W of Cassiopeia finally rests perfectly level — you don't often see it like that! — low in the north-northeast.
If you don't live too far south, that is. Farther south than Atlanta or Los Angeles, at least part of Cassiopeia skims below the horizon.
THURSDAY, JUNE 9
■ Spica shines to the lower left of the Moon tonight.
■ While we're at it, Spica forms an almost perfectly equilateral triangle with brighter Arcturus high above it and Denebola, the tail of Leo, off toward Spica's right. All three sides of the triangle are close to 35° long (35.3°, 35.1°, and 32.8°). S&T columnist George Lovi named this the Spring Triangle (in the March 1974 issue), and for such a near-perfect equilateral, I say the name ought to be revived.
FRIDAY, JUNE 10
■ Now Spica sparkles to the Moon's right after dusk. Look roughly twice as far lower right of Spica, and there are the four brightest stars of sail-shaped Corvus.
SATURDAY, JUNE 11
■ The Big Dipper hangs high in the northwest as the stars come out. The Dipper's Pointers, currently its bottom two stars, point lower right toward Polaris. Above Polaris, and looking very similar to it, is Kochab, the lip of the dim Little Dipper's bowl.
Kochab stands precisely above Polaris around the end of twilight or a little after. How precisely can you time this event for your location, perhaps using the vertical edge of a building?
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is deep in the glow of sunrise.
Venus (magnitude –4.0) rises soon after the beginning of dawn. Look for it just left of due east. It's at least three fists at arm's length lower left of Jupiter. Venus will continue to rise around the beginning of dawn all the way through August.
Mars and Jupiter, very different at magnitudes +0.6 and –2.2 respectively, shine together before and during dawn in the east-southeast. Little Mars is lower left of bright Jupiter.
Saturn, magnitude +0.7, glows in eastern Capricornus a good 40° (about four fists) to the right of Jupiter before dawn. The little star 2° to Saturn's lower right is Delta Capricorni, magnitude 2.8.
Uranus is buried in the eastern dawn, near Venus.
Neptune, magnitude 7.9, is some 10° west (right) of Jupiter before dawn begins.
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. (Universal Time is also called UT, 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 an easy-to-use 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 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 stars to magnitude 7.6.
Next up is the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0, plotting stars to magnitude 8.5; nearly three times as many. The next up, once you know your way around, are the even larger Interstellarum atlas (stars to magnitude 9.5) or Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And be sure to 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.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically, meaning heavy and expensive. 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."
Audio sky tour. Out under the evening sky with your
earbuds in place, listen to Kelly Beatty's monthly
podcast tour of the 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