Friday, May 31
• The Dipper Twist. Constellations seem to twist around fast when they pass your zenith — if you're comparing them to the direction "down," i.e. away from the zenith. Just a week and a half ago, the Big Dipper floated horizontally in late twilight an hour after sunset (as seen from 40° N latitude). Now it's angled diagonally at that time. In another week and a half it will be hanging straight down by its handle!
Saturday, June 1
• "Cassiopeia" doesn't always mean "Cold." Late fall and winter are when this landmark constellation, almost opposite the Big Dipper across Polaris, stands high overhead in the evening (seen from mid-northern latitudes). But even on warm June evenings it lurks low. As twilight fades out, look for it near the north horizon: a wide, upright W, as shown here.
The farther north you are the higher it'll appear. But even as far south as San Diego and Atlanta it's completely above the true horizon.
Sunday, June 2
• Capella sets in the northwest soon after dark, depending on your latitude. That leaves Vega and Arcturus as the brightest stars of the evening. Vega shines in the east, icy blue-white. Arcturus is very high toward the south, pale yellow-orange.
Monday, June 3
• This is the time of year when Leo the Lion walks downward toward the west, on his way to departing into the sunset in early summer, as shown below. Right after dark spot the brightest star fairly high in the west. That's Regulus, his forefoot.
• New Moon (exact at 6:02 a.m. on this date).
Tuesday, June 4
• About 30 or 40 minutes after sunset, scan very low in the west-northwest for the hair-thin Moon. About 6° to the right of it is Mercury.
• Ceres, the largest asteroid, is just past opposition and magnitude 7.1 this week. It's high in the south by 11 or midnight, in Ophiuchus 9° north of Antares. See the article and finder chart in the May Sky & Telescope, page 48.
Wednesday, June 5
• Bright Arcturus, magnitude 0 and pale yellow-orange, shines high overhead toward the south these evenings. The kite shape of Bootes, its constellation, extends upper left from it. The kite is narrow, slightly bent, and 23° long: about two fists at arm's length.
Just east (left) of the Bootes kite is the semicircle of Corona Borealis, the pretty but mostly dim Northern Crown. Its brightest star, Alphecca, is a gem mounted on its front.
• Before the Moon starts to light the evening sky in a few days, work through the heart of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster with your telescope using the article and chart in the June Sky & Telescope, page 48.
Thursday, June 6
• A third of the way from Arcturus to Vega, look for Corona Borealis with 2nd-magnitude Alphecca as its one moderately bright star.
Two thirds of the way from Arcturus to Vega is the dim Keystone of Hercules, lying almost level. Use binoculars or a telescope to examine its top edge. A third of the way from the edge's left end to right end is 6th-magnitude M13, one of Hercules's two great globular star clusters. (The other is M92, almost M13's twin.)
Friday, June 7
• Just after dark look for Regulus upper left of the Moon, as shown here. From there trace out the rest of Leo.
Saturday, June 8
• Now the Moon shines closer above Regulus at nightfall.
• The middle star of the Big Dipper's bent 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. If your eyes aren't quite sharp enough, binoculars show Alcor easily.
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 guide to 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) and Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, or the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide 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."
Mercury (magnitude –1) is very low in the afterglow of sunset. Scan for it with binoculars a little above the west-northwest horizon about 30 minutes after sundown.
Venus (magnitude –3.8) is even lower in the dawn. About 20 minutes before sunrise, scan for it with binoculars a little above the east-northeast horizon.
Mars (a mere magnitude +1.8, in the middle of Gemini) is low in the west-northwest as twilight fades away. Look for it below brighter Pollux and Castor.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.6, at the eastern leg of Ophiuchus) is low in the southeast by late twilight. Antares, much fainter at magnitude +1.0, twinkles 11° to its right. Jupiter is highest in the south around 1 or 2 a.m., with orange Antares now to its lower right.
In a telescope Jupiter is 46 arcseconds wide as it nears its June 10th opposition; see Bob King's Jupiter is Outstanding at Opposition. And big changes continue in and around Jupiter's Great Red Spot, as seen in the images here.
And despite an ignorant news report that's circulating all over the world right now, you can see Jupiter's moons with binoculars anytime Jupiter is up — not just at opposition! Who produces this nonsense?
Saturn (magnitude +0.3, in Sagittarius) rises around 11 p.m. In the early-morning hours it's the steady, pale yellowish "star" about 30° (three fists at arm's length) east of Jupiter. Saturn's opposition comes July 9th.
Uranus is still hidden in the glow of dawn.
Neptune (magnitude 7.9, in Aquarius) is low in the east-southeast just before dawn begins, far lower right of the Great Square of Pegasus. Finder chart.
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 that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America.
Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) is Universal Time (UT, UTC, GMT, or Z time) minus 4 hours.
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.
“This adventure is made possible by generations of searchers strictly adhering to a simple set of rules. Test ideas by experiments and observations. Build on those ideas that pass the test. Reject the ones that fail. Follow the evidence wherever it leads, and question everything. Accept these terms, and the cosmos is yours.”
— Neil deGrasse Tyson, 2014