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Look for Mars and Mercury at twilight when stargazing from now to June 11
While all the rain, wind and cool evening temperatures of the past few weeks have not been either conducive or encouraging to getting outside to view the spring night sky, the next couple of weeks, with the long-range promise of warmer and clearer weather - not to mention the arrival of summer – should provide ample encouragement and opportunity to get out and enjoy the late spring evening sky.
Both Mars and Mercury are visible in the WNW (west northwest) sky as evening twilight falls during the last days of May and the early part of June. Although Mars (mag. +1.8) appears higher in the sky than Mercury, the red planet will slowly drop lower in the twilight sky as each day passes, with the two planets eventually drawing close to each other around mid-month.
Mercury, far below and to the right of Mars, sets a little over an hour after sunset, followed by Mars a few hours later. On June 4, as twilight deepens, look for the thin, crescent moon (just one day past new) as it sets in the WNW, with Mercury to its right and Mars to its upper left.
On the following evening, Mars, the crescent moon and Mercury form a line in the sky at nightfall.
- June 3 - New moon
- June 7 - Moon at perigee (closest to Earth)
- June 10 - First quarter moon
Jupiter, our solar system's largest planet, rises in the SE (southeast) a couple of hours after sunset. It is heading towards opposition (opposite the sun in the night sky as viewed from Earth) on June 10 and will be visible all night. Though larger in apparent size and brighter (mag. -2.6) than it has been for the past five years, Jupiter doesn't get very high in the southern sky during the night, with the result that, even with a telescope, views of this amazing planet will be somewhat diminished due to unstable viewing conditions, brought on by looking at the planet through a larger portion of the Earth’s atmosphere closer to the horizon.
Saturn follows Jupiter up into the SE sky close to midnight as June begins and during the evening twilight by month's end. The ringed planet brightens in June, from mag. +0.3 to +0.1, and, as the sky darkens, can be found to the left of the "teapot" asterism in Sagittarius - the Archer in the SSE (south southeast) sky. The planet and its magnificent ring system are best viewed well after midnight when it is at its highest point in the sky.
Venus rises in the ENE (east northeast) less than one hour before the sun in June. On the morning of June 1, weather conditions permitting, look for the thin, waning, crescent moon to the right of Venus. Shining at a brilliant magnitude of -3.8, Venus far outshines any other celestial object in the dawn sky; it is easy to see why it is often referred to as our "morning star."
Until next time, clear skies.
Glenn K. Roberts lives in Stratford, P.E.I., and has been an avid amateur astronomer since he was a small child. His column, Atlantic Skies, appears every two weeks. He welcomes comments from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Read Glenn Roberts' May 15 column: ATLANTIC SKIES: Once in a blue moon