EYES ON THE NIGHT SKY - JUNE 2019
June is a quiet month for stargazing as the nights are too bright for seeing celestial objects in all their glory. The good news is that there are still planets to be studied, an opportunity to spot Noctilucent clouds , see the Earth’s shadow cast into the sky and over the next couple of months, we will focus on double stars. Take the time to study the Moon this month if you have binoculars or a small telescope. The New Moon occurs on 3rd June and the Full Moon on 17th June.
Four Stars in Two
One of the most popular double stars in the sky isn’t just a double – it’s a double-double. In the constellation of Lyra, which is well placed this time of year, Epsilon Lyrae forms a point of a perfect triangle.
Use your binoculars to split Epsilon Lyrae into its two component stars, which have 10,000 times the distance between the earth and the sun between them and if you have a small telescope, use high magnification to split those two stars into four! This quadruple system is fascinating; the stars circle each other every 1000 years and 1986 a fifth star was detected using specialist equipment. In addition, up to 10 nearby stars may be part of this system. The image below shows how the stars are split again using a small telescope at high magnification:
There are a few planets worth studying this month. Mercury is at greatest elongation, or is at the greatest angle from the Sun on 23rd June at 10pm, so try and look for it after the sun has set. It is situated low in the northwest sky. There is an opportunity to see the thin crescent moon, Mars and Mercury together in the northwestern sky on 5th June at around 10:20pm. If you don’t manage to catch it this month, have a play with this 3D simulator of Mercury below: (Source: NASA Visualization Technology Applications and Development (VTAD)
Jupiter rises at 10pm at the beginning of the month and 7.45pm at the end. On 10th June, the planet will be at opposition and its nearest to earth. This is an interesting planet to observe; not just the famous Great Red spot, which has recently been ‘unravelling’ but the experience of watching the shadows of Jupiter’s moons travelling across the face of the planet (called transits) can be fascinating. Here is a calculator to assist you in finding the times where the transits happen.
Our atmosphere can be quite turbulent during summer nights which may make it difficult to see Jupiter in any detail – but with patience, those few seconds of stillness may provide a thrilling opportunity to see those transits and other planetary features.
Saturn rises at 12.15am at the beginning of the month and at 10.05pm at the end. On 18th June, the Moon and Saturn will rise together from 11pm and will share the same right ascension. The Moon will pass even closer to Saturn at about 4.47am 0°26' but the rising Sun may hamper views. You can study them with a telescope, binoculars or just your eyes!
Image credit: Full moon rising near Linz, Austria by Sb2s3 (CC BY-SA 4.0)
If you are out enjoying the summer evenings, look out for an atmospheric phenomenon which requires no equipment to see it. The Belt of Venus occurs just after sunset or before sunrise, all year long. You will see a reddish, pinkish stripe above a wider, grey belt low on the horizon, in the east after sunset and in the west after sunrise. You will need good access to a low horizon to see it. The grey area is the Earth’s shadow being projected into the sky and the reddish, pinkish stripe is sunlight. The Belt of Venus isn’t named after the planet, but after the Greek goddess, Venus.