June 2014 Night Sky Calendar
SUNDAY, JUNE 1: MOON 5.4 DEGREES SOUTH OF JUPITER
Jupiter is not long for the world; we'll watch the bloated behemoth
descending lower in the western evening sky. Tonight, one will find it
close to the waxing crescent moon. Despite its decreased altitude,
Jupiter remains the brightest night sky object apart from the moon and
Venus. Behold Zeus and Diana early this evening.
MONDAY, JUNE 2: MOON 6.4 DEGREES SSW OF BEEHIVE STAR CLUSTER
One might have noticed that the moon is always a prominent feature of
our night sky calendars. The reason is simple: it is a fast mover that
swings by so many celestial objects during its rapid orbit around Earth.
As the moon is often the night sky's most prominent feature, one can use
it to find these other, less conspicous, bodies. Regard the Beehive Star
Cluster -perfect example!- a galactic cluster in the utterly unprominent
constellation Cancer the Crab. This galactic, or open, cluster resembles
a faint light smudge reminiscent of a white thumb print. The Beehive, or
Prasepe, is certianly not the night sky's brightest feature. However, it
is readily visible in a completely dark sky. And, since completely dark
skies are few and far between now, this beguiling star cluster is a
difficult sight in most skies. Tonight, however, one will see the
crescent moon and the Beehive Star Cluster together. Fortunately, the
crescent moon isn't bright enough to completely obscure the cluster.
THURSDAY, JUNE 5: FIRST QUARTER MOON
Also known as "quadrature," the first quarter moon rises around noon and
sets around midnight. These times vary throughout the year, as the
moon's altitude changes with each orbit. (For instance, the first
quarter moon is generally highest -and in the sky longest- around the
vernal equinox; and lowest -and in the sky for the least amount of time-
around the autumnal equinox.)
SATURDAY, JUNE 7: MOON 1.5 DEGREES SSW OF MARS
We warned you that you'd encounter the moon frequently in these night
sky calendars. Tonight, one will have no difficulty finding the gibbous
moon and Mars together. Both celestial bodies will remain in view until
TUESDAY, JUNE 10: MOON 1.2 DEGREES SE OF SATURN (BRONZE EVENT!)
For those who just joined our "happy few," in these night sky calendars,
we award medals to celestial events: Bronze, Silver, and Gold.
Completely gratuitious, this scheme enables us to label the month's
"must see" events. If you resolve to only venture outside once this
month, we recommend the Gold event . If you decide to observe the sky
twice, choose the Silver and Gold event. Finally, if you want to go
outside three times, you would want to select the Bronze, Silver and
Gold event. Now, the one problem is that nobody in human history has
ever actually thought this way. Star gazing is generally a crime of
opportunity: on those 2 - 5 days a month when the sky is clear enough to
Saturn veers close to the nearly full moon tonight! A beautiful
coupling, especially if you havesurface and then Saturn's magnificient ring system. Even sans scope, the
Saturn-moon appulse is a delight for the eye. Incidentally, the moon
will occult -move in front of- Saturn for observers in the south Indian
Ocean and Antarctica. We'll simply see Saturn and Selene soaring across
FRIDAY, JUNE 13: FULL MOON
Of course the June full moon has an assortment of sweet sobriquets
associated with summer and its assundry symbols. First, there is the all
too famous "honey moon." This term also applies to the time period
immediately following a marriage or an election, in which life is joy,
beauty and a bounty of bliss. (Depending on the marriage, this span can
range anywhere from three hours -the time required to sleep it off- to
75 years,) The association of the honey moon to wedded bliss relates to
the popularity of June weddings. The name "honey" might signify the
rising moon's orange-yellow tint. Of course, the full moon exhibits this
color every month.
Other names include the "Strawberry Moon," as June is generally the
month when they're harvested. Another lovely name is the "Rose Moon," as
this is the time when roses are in full bloom.
SATURDAY, JUNE 14: MARS AND SATURN IN HELIOCENTRIC CONJUNCTION WITH
The "turkey" is just the event that we want to mention because, well,
it's there. However, there is nothing to see here. Yet, let's say you
woke up tomorrow morning on Saturn's surface. First of all, this
contigency is a remote one and secondly, Saturn's a gas giant and
doesn't actually have a surface. However, we're pretending. You wake up
on Saturn and you cannot see Mars because it is between you and the Sun.
From Saturn's perspective, Mars is an inferior planet and therefore can
pass between it and the Sun. The term for this configuration is
"inferior conjunction,." During such conjunctions, the inferior planet
will not be visible unless it transits the Sun, or moves directly in
front of it. The next transit of Mars from Saturn won't occur until May
17, 2024. Now, to us, that's exciting! (Turkey.)
SUNDAY, JUNE 15: MERCURY AT APHELION
Yes, we generally work through the elliptical orbit issue at least once
during each night sky calendar. Every planet in our solar system travels
along an elliptical orbit, which we can envision as an oval. Unlike a
perfect circle, which is a closed curve with all points equidistant from
a common center, an ellipse consists of points surrounding two foci. As
the Sun occupies one focus, a planet's distance from it will vary
continuously throughout the orbit. The most distant point is called
"aphelion." and the point of least distance is "perihelion." The
difference between these extremes depends on the orbit's elongation. If
an orbit is highly elongated, the aphelion and perihelion distances will
be substantially differrent. Mercury is a beautiful example, as its
eccentricity, which measures its departure from circularity, is 0.205.
This means that its aphelion distance will be twenty percent greater
than its average distance and its perihelion distance will be twenty
percent less. Today, Mercury will be 43.3 million miles from the Sun.
Compare to its average distance of 36 million miles.
THURSDAY, JUNE 19: LAST QUARTER MOON
THURSDAY, JUNE 19: MERCURY AT INFERIOR CONJUNCTION
This event isn't as much of a turkey as the "Mars in heliocentric
conjunction with Saturn" event. We need to know that Mercury is in
inferior conjunction so we'll know not to look for it this week. Mercury
moves between Earth and the Sun today, and therefore won't be visible.
The next Mercurian transit occurs on May 9, 2016.
SATURDAY, JUNE 21: SUMMER SOLSTICE (GOLD EVENT!!!)
Astronomical summer begins! The Sun reaches its greatest altitude along
the ecliptic. Or, more precisely, the north pole is pointed as close to
the Sun as possible, and, consequently, the Sun attains its highest
altitude in our sky* Even though summer begins, the Sun starts losing
altitude and wilsolstice. However, we'll be able to enjoy long days and short nights for
a couple months and, if the gods have any sense of Platonic justice,
we'll also experience stifling heat, oppressive humidity, and
interminable nights that will feel like we've been consigned to tropical
SATURDAY, JUNE 21: SUN ENTERS GEMINI
The Sun leaves Taurus the Bull and enters Gemini the Twins. This
apparent annual solar migration results directly from Earth's orbital
motion around the Sun. As our planet whips around the fiery orb, our
perspective on the stars changes. Presently, Earth is on the far side of
the Sun relative to the Gemini stars, and therefore the Sun appears to
move through that constellation. Each year, the Sun moves through
thirteen constellations: those comprising the ecliptic, or the "zodiac."
The ecliptic constellations are GEMINI THE TWINS, Cancer the Crab, Leo
the Lion, Virgo the Maiden, Libra the Scales, Scorpius the Scorpion,
Ophiuchus the Serpent Charmer, Sagittarius the Archer, Capricornus the
Seagoat, Aquarius the Water Bearer, Pisces the Fish, Aries the Ram, and
Taurus the Bull. The Sun will enter Cancer the Crab on July 21.
MONDAY, JUNE 23: VENUS 5.7 DEGREES SSE OF THE PLEIADES
The Pleiades Star Cluster is a prominent winter night sky sight. We
refer to the Pleiades as a "winter night sky object" because it is
prominent in the winter evening sky. However, one can find it now in the
pre-dawn eastern sky. (A psychological comfort for those few who dearly
miss winter and its myriad horrors.) Tonight, see our brilliant sister
world close to the Pleiades, otherwise known as the Seven Sisters.
TUESDAY, JUNE 24: MOON 1.3 DEGREES S OF VENUS (SILVER EVENT!!)
We'll lose Venus soon, at least for awhile. However, one can still find
the second world in the eastern early morning sky. Next to it this
morning, one will observe the crescent moon. The sight of this moon
close to Venus against the brightening twilight might induce some to
venture out before dawn! Diana and Aphrodite hardly ever disappoint!
FRIDAY, JUNE 27: NEW MOON
Beginning of lunation cycle 1132
SUNDAY, JUNE 29: MOON 5.4 DEGREES S OF JUPITER!
Yes, Yogi, it's déjà vu all over again.
We saw the Moon and Jupiter together on June 1st. Now, we see them
together again in the early evening. One difference is in the position.
Jupiter and the moon are quite close to the Sun and will be visible
briefly after dusk.
MERCURY: June is not Mercury's month. It is visible before sunset in the
western sky at month's beginning, but then vanishes mid month, only to
emerge in the pre-dawn sky, a stage it shares with Venus. (Mercury is in
inferior conjunction on June 19th). VERDICT: Best time to see Mercury is
straight away. Venture out the first few nights in June to glimpse it in
the western sky.
VENUS: A reminder that we won't see Venus at all this coming autumn.
Presently, the goddess planet approaches the Sun in our early morning
sky. It also grows dimmer, but still easily outshines all the planets
and night sky stars. VERDICT: Venus is always beautiful. If you have the
chance, seek it in the early morning eastern sky. Remember, it will
leave us for a few months, but will return late in the year and become a
prominent winter 2015 eastern sky planet.
MARS: The red planet is still bright, though not as brilliant as it was
during its April opposition. Mars remains visible for the rest of 2014.
See it in the eastern evening and western morning sky tonight. It is
dimmer than Venus and Jupiter, but brighter than Saturn. VERDICT: Its
distinct color makes it easy to find. Find Mars anytime this evening or
JUPITER: will depart the sky soon. We'll lose Jupiter by early July,
only to see it return to the pre-dawn August sky. (Jupiter makes a
dramatic comback in the winter). VERDICT: Though low, it is still bright
and easy to find provided you venture outside just after dark.
SATURN (PICK PLANET): Now, why would we choose the second dimmest of the
nakedalmost all night long. It was in opposition in May. Also, Saturn is a
gorgeous planet, owing to its famous ring system. If you want to glimpse
a wonder world through binoculars or a telescope, this month offers
plenty of opportunities for you to behold Saturn!
PLANETS IN ORDER OF BRIGHTNESS
VENUS - JUPITER - MARS - MERCURY - SATURN
*Tuesday's "Daily Astronomer" discusses the Sun's solstice altitude and
how to calculate it at different latitudes.
Day Courses Fall 2016 Schedule!
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- The Daily Astronomer: July 25, 2016: "Galileo's Ego"
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- August 21, 2017 Total Solar Eclipse! (Note: It won't be total here in New England.)