Finally, the warm weather is here, just in time for the summer solstice, which ushers in the official start of summer here in the northern hemisphere.
The only drawback to the onset of summer is that the nights are shorter, which definitely cuts into the time one can spend observing the night sky. That being duly noted, its time to break out the barbecues and the sunscreen, for summer commences at 7:51 a.m. on the morning of June 21. For more interesting information about the summer solstice, Google summer solstice or go to the www.astronomy.com or www.skyandtelescope.com.
Lighting the way for summer are bright planets in the evening and early morning sky this month. As darkness falls during the early part of the month, Jupiter (mag. -1.8) becomes visible in the western part of the sky about half an hour after sunset. It sets about three hours after the sun in the first part of June, but only about one hour by the end of the month. You will have to be quick if you’re planning on viewing Jupiter, because, as it drifts lower towards the horizon, you will be observing it through more and more atmosphere, which will lessen and distort any of the planet’s features. On the evening of June 29, look for the waxing, crescent moon far to the left of Jupiter.
Mars (mag. -0.5) lies due south as twilight ends and doesn’t set until well past midnight. Spica, the main star in the constellation Virgo – the Maiden sits to the left of Mars. The blue-white colour of Spica contrasts nicely with ruddy-coloured Mars. On the evening of June 7, the waxing, crescent moon sits to the left of Mars.
Saturn (mag. 0.3) is near its highest point in the southern night sky as darkness falls. Still bright after is opposition in May, Saturn offers an excellent view of the northern side of its famous ring system (tilted 21 degrees to our line of sight). This affords viewers an opportunity to clearly see the Cassini Division — the space between the outer A Ring and the inner, brighter B Ring. On June 10, look for the moon sitting to the lower left of Saturn.
Just as dawn begins to tinge the eastern horizon with colour, Venus rises in the east (about 2 hours before sunrise). At mag. -3.9, it is the brightest object in the pre-dawn sky (only the moon is brighter). On the morning of June 24, binoculars will show Venus with a very thin, waning, crescent moon just to its lower right, and the Pleiades (the Seven Sisters) star cluster above.
Comet K1 (PANSTARRS c/2012) is visible high in the evening sky in the constellation of Ursa Major – the Great Bear (commonly referred to as the Big Dipper’, a circum-polar constellation visible on any clear night). Shining at mag. 8, this comet should be visible in binoculars from a dark site. It will appear as a fuzzy ball of light with a distinct dot of brightness at its core; you might also see its two tails. The dust tail will be to the north along the comet’s orbit, while the ionized gas tail will stream out to the east. The best viewing should be during the last 10 days of the month, when the moon will interfere less. Check www.astronomy.com or www.skyand
telescope.com for star charts showing the comet’s current location and projected path throughout June and the coming months.
Though a variable meteor shower, the Bootid shower (radiant in the constellation of Bootes – the Herdsman in the NW) will peak during the pre-dawn hours of June 27. This year’s shower coincides with the new moon, so viewing conditions should be favourable (weather permitting). The Bootids have varied greatly over time, ranging from a magnificent display in 1927, going dormant thereafter and then returning in 1998 with 100+ meteors/hour. The past few years have had displays of 50 plus/hour, but, as with all meteors showers, one never knows what will happen from year to year. The Bootids are rated as the slowest of any of the known meteors showers, hitting Earth’s upper atmosphere at a mere 63,000-plus km per hour.
June’s full moon is often referred to as the rose moon or the strawberry moon for the appearance of these plants at this time of the year. Until next month, clear skies.
June 5 - First quarter moon; 5:39 p.m.
June 13 - Full moon; 1:11 a.m.
June 15 - Moon at perigee (closest to Earth); 12:29 a.m.
June 19 - Last quarter moon; 3:39 p.m.
June 21 - Summer solstice; 7:51 a.m.
June 27 - New moon; 5:08 a.m.
June 30 - Moon at apogee (farthest from Earth); 4:10 p.m.
Glenn K. Roberts is a member of the Charlottetown Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). His column appears in The Guardian once a month. He welcomes comments from readers. Anyone who would like to comment on his column is encouraged to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.