Download this month’s Sky Tour podcast to find out where and when to spot a rare alignment of five planets in the sky before dawn.
For summer-lovers in the Northern Hemisphere, June is a great month. The solstice, when daylight is longest, comes on the 21st at 5:14 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. At June’s solstice, the midday Sun passes directly overhead from anywhere along the Tropic of Cancer, which runs around our planet at a latitude of 23½° north. But if you love to savor the night sky, this is a minimalist month because the nights are so short.
This will be a month with no bright comets, no strong meteor showers, and no eclipses of the Sun or Moon. And yet something rare and otherworldly will occur. If you’re a regular Sky Tour listener, you know that the planets have been putting on quite a show in the predawn sky. This month their performance reaches a climax.
Beginning around June 4th, fast-moving Mercury begins a climb in the eastern sky before dawn, joining four other planets already there. What’s remarkable is that these five worlds will appear in the sky with the same order as their orbital sequence outward from the Sun! Mercury is lowest down, then sweeping toward its upper right are Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. On the 4th, this quintet will be closest together, packed within an arc of sky only 91° long.
However, Mercury will be very low down and seriously challenging to spot even if you have an unobstructed view toward east. As the days go by, Mercury climbs higher in the sky and gets brighter. On June 24th, the string of five planets will be slightly longer — but Mercury will be much easier to locate. As an added bonus, on that morning a thin crescent Moon will be situated between Venus and Mars.
Meanwhile, June is an excellent month to spot a dim yet famous constellation positioned between the bright stars Spica in the southwest and Antares in the southeast. Do you know which one it is? Listen to this month’s Sky Tour podcast to find out. (Hint: It’s got two stars with tongue-twisting Arabic names!)
Meanwhile, our fun and engaging Sky Tour describes how to find many of the season’s bright stars, all of which have interesting stories to tell. By letting our narrated podcast guide you to them, you can have a satisfying and rewarding stargazing session in just a few minutes. No experience or equipment is needed. All you need is this month’s 12-minute episode!