Dark Skies June Update
June is a month where we don't get truly dark skies. Even around the midnight hours, our sun is never more than 18 degrees below the horizon, ( the definition of “astronomical” darkness being that the sun is more than 18 degrees below horizon). Even so, there is still much to potentially see in the skies.
Jupiter is slowly dropping towards the western horizon, though still remains a worthy target for binoculars and telescopes for the next couple of months.
Taking centre stage at the moment however is Mars, a bright, ruddy/orange object low in the southern skies visible from sunset onwards. Those with telescopic aid may be able to make out some of the surface features and polar ice caps on the planet, which at this moment in time, is at it's closest to our Earth for some years. It's unfortunate that during this close “opposition” to use the correct astronomical term, that the planet lies relatively low down in the sky.
Roughly a handspan to the east of Mars lurks Saturn, also suffering from being low in the sky. When seen through telescopes or even binoculars, the planet famed for it's ring system never fails to deliver that “wow factor”. Just a little below Saturn is a bright star called Antares. It's a star much larger than our own, a type called a red giant. If we could suddenly replace our sun with Antares, poor Earth would actually be inside this red giant star. It's a massive star, but there are some even larger! Take a look at Mars and Antares. The name Antares means “rival of Mars”, although for a while, I thing you'll agree that Mars really outshines Antares and the “rival” is really second best!!
Looking at meteor showers this month, the June Lyrids are active with a maximum around the 15th June. These will appear to originate from an area just below the bright star Vega. Unfortunately, an almost full moon around the time the shower is active will dampen out all but the very brightest meteors from the Lyrids, but keep your eyes open, you may get lucky.
The other phenomena to look out for during the next month or two are noctilucent clouds, as shown in the image below. These are clouds which form much higher up in the atmosphere than “normal” clouds, (upto 7 times higher), and as such still catch the light from the sun for a couple of hours after sunset and before sunrise. They typically appear in the low north-western sky and slowly track through north around to the north-east over a couple of hours. These wispy clouds frequently display an electric blue colour with interconnecting structures. Although more prevalent at higher latitudes – in Scotland for instance – displays can be seen from our region from time to time.
So, there you have it. Keep your eyes peeled – you just never know with astronomy, you could be just in the right place at the right time looking in the right direction!! Best wishes and clear skies.