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Touring the Skies By: Jim Bonser (

June 1, 2013
Northern-Sun Print
Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

As June begins, we sadly say goodby to Jupiter as it sets sooner and sooner after the sun. Jupiter will be exactly behind the sun on June 19th. Those of you who read my articles regularly may remember that this arrangement, when the Earth the Sun and another planet line up with the sun in the middle, is called a conjunction. It means that Jupiter will pass behind the Sun from our point of view, disappearing from the evening skies and beginning to appear before sunrise in the early morning skies. Early in the month will also be the last chance we will have to enjoy the dance of Jupiter, Mercury and Venus. On June 1st, all three planets form a perfectly straight line and are almost perfectly spaced apart as well. Although Jupiter will bow out of the dance early, Mercury and Venus will still be fun to watch. While Jupiter creeps closer and closer to the horizon, these two climb higher and higher into the sky. On the evening of June 10th, a beautiful extremely slender crescent moon joins the pair about 6 degrees to the left of Mercury. Even though the moon pulls away rapidly for the next couple of nights the three make for a very pretty grouping. Mercury climbs highest in the sky on June 8 and then begins its descent toward the horizon. On the way back down, Mercury will pass Venus on June 19th and the two bright planets will be separated from each other by slightly less than 2 degrees. If you have a telescope or access to one, be sure to compare the two while they are so close. Mercury will be only 38 percent lit and will shine at about +0.6 magnitude. By way of contrast, nearby Venus will dazzle your eye being 92 percent lit and shining at -3.9 magnitude. Remember, positive magnitudes are dimmer and negative magnitudes are brighter – one of those quirks that keeps learning astronomy fun! Once you have looked for Mercury and Venus before they set in the gathering dusk, it is time to look for something even more interesting. Saturn has finally returned to the early evening skies. In fact, by the time it gets dark in mid-June, say 9:45 PM, Saturn is almost due south, just to the left of bright Spica in the constellation Virgo. Saturn’s rings are beginning to close again, but they will still bring plenty of oooh’s and aaah’s from first time viewers at star parties. I have heard many veteran stargazers make similar sounds when they look at this amazing planet too! Those incredible rings and that beautiful golden hue combine to make Saturn the unequaled beauty of the Solar System! If you are not sure which star is Spica, or where Virgo is in the sky, the moon will be happy to assist you to locate Saturn this month on June 18 and 19. On the 18th, the Moon will be about 4 degrees below and to the left of Spica. Saturn will be to the left of the moon about the same height as Spica, but about twice as far away – about 8 degrees. Remember that your index finger held at arm’s length is about 2 degrees, so 3 fingers held together will be close to 6 degrees. The next night, on June 19th, the moon will have moved to the left (east) of Saturn and now they are about 8 degrees apart. The summer solstice occurs on June 21st at 4 minutes after midnight. The summer solstice is when the Sun rises as far north as it gets and then each sunrise after that it rises a little bit more to the south. Warm summer observing nights ahead! Whoohoo! When the moon is out of the way, like on June 8th when new moon happens this month, pay attention to where the Milky Way is in the east. It is still pretty much parallel to the horizon this month at say 11 o’clock. Guy Ottewell points out this month is a good one to remember that bright Vega in the constellation Lyra lies in the direction that our solar system is moving. I like to tell kids later in the summer when Vega is overhead that if they lay down on the grass they can imagine themselves on the point of a rocket ship speeding straight at bright Vega. Sometimes, if you lie really still, I tell them, you can almost feel the gentle vibration of the powerful rocket motors driving us through space! Well, I did say you have to use your imagination, didn’t I?

Clear Skies!



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