EYES ON THE NIGHT SKY – JUNE 2020
Please note, as of 29th May 2020, The Elan Valley Estate remains closed to the public, as with all other tourist sites and beauty spots in Wales.
Welcome to the June edition of Eyes on the Night Sky. For all of the UK the night darkens to a stunning deep blue but not quite reaching full darkness, which means faint galaxies and nebulae are out of reach. However, make the most of those warm summer nights as there are wonders still to be discovered.
Noctilucent clouds, 21st June 2019 ©Sam Price
June means Noctilucent Cloud season. This season may not be as incredible as last year’s display but it is still worth staying up to look out for this wonderful phenomenon. Look to the northern skies around 90 minutes to a couple of hours after sunset and before sunrise; you may see these gossamer, high altitude ice-formed clouds which are in the upper Earth’s atmosphere (mesosphere) and lit by the sun’s rays.
The cause of these clouds is still being debated, but recent studies have explored Space Shuttle exhaust emissions, dust particles from micro meteors or volcanoes and even a recent increase of methane emissions reaching the upper atmosphere; the molecules then producing water vapour contributing to the cloud displays. All you need to observe these are your dark-adapted eyes and warm clothing. To keep an eye on the forecasts, visit spaceweather.com or keep up with user contributed updates – at this time of writing, fine displays are being seen already in Europe and weaker displays are present in the UK.
Mercury can be spotted in the northwest sky in early June as it sets two hours after the sun but it becomes more difficult to see it during the rest of the month.
At the beginning of the month, Jupiter rises in the southeastern sky at 10:20pm and is visible until dawn. Saturn rises east of Jupiter a few minutes later, its northern facing rings tilted towards us. The turbulent, warm summer air might make viewing detail on these planets difficult but it is worth persevering into the early hours of the morning to spot interesting features on these planets with a small telescope. Look out for a pleasing conjunction at around midnight on 9th June, where a trio of objects rises from the southeast: Saturn and Jupiter lie close to each other, with the gibbous waning Moon passing below.
The full Moon falls on 5th June and the new Moon on 21st June. On this day there will also be a penumbral eclipse, where part of the Moon will fall into the Earth’s shadow. Look out for a slight darkening to the right half of the Moon; it may be barely discernible, even at around the time of maximum eclipse, which is at around 8.25pm.
Try to look for an interesting impact crater, one of which has impact rays that can be seen with the unaided eye, as they stretch over an incredible area of 800 km!
Copernicus Crater is visible using binoculars and has a diameter of 93 km and is up to 3.8 km deep. It was named after 17th Century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who believed that the planets revolved around the Sun (Heliocentrism), which was a controversial scientific theory at the time, as the commonly held belief was that the Earth was the centre of the universe which revolved around it (Geocentrism). It was thought that Giovanni Riccioli, who introduced a nomenclature of lunar features in 1651, named the crater Copernicus in covert support of his Heliocentrist theory.
The best time to see this crater is in first week of June from 10pm and the same time of the evening on 29th June when it is in shadow.
Constellation of the Month – Lyra
Lyra is a small constellation but is very distinct; thanks to the bright star Vega, which is the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere. Once you have spotted this bright star, one of the first to appear in the darkening sky, you will spot its four other components which makes up this constellation, which represents the lyre, an ancient stringed instrument. Amongst a few interesting telescope targets, the Ring Nebula (Messier 57) is situated at the foot of this constellation, a worthy target in small and large telescopes. This time of year, this planetary nebula which is 2300 light years away, will be washed out due to lack of true darkness.
In Greek mythology, Lyra represents the lyre of musician and poet Orpheus, son of King Oeagrus. In his youth he was gifted a golden lyre from the Greek god Apollo as he was very accomplished at writing music that would even ‘charm the stones’. In fact, he was able to save Jason and the Argonauts from the deadly Sirens by playing his lyre to drown out their calls.
Sadly, he lost his wife Eurydice after she fell into a nest of vipers whilst escaping a marauding Satyr who appeared on her wedding day. After charming the gods with his divine music, the gods advised Orpheus to travel to the underworld to rescue his wife and but his quest would only be successful if he didn’t look at her until they returned. Unfortunately, he forgot about this and as he glanced back at his beautiful wife, she vanished and he never saw her again.
Orpheus was killed by the Bacchantes for not honouring their god, Dionysus. In tribute to his life, the Muses took his lyre to the heavens, which became the constellation of Lyra.
In Welsh tradition, Lyra is also known as King Arthur’s Harp (Talyn Arthur) or King David’s Harp.
Space Fluff Project
Take part in a brand new citizen science project – help identify faint galaxies that have been picked up by the Fornax Deep Survey but cannot be identified by algorithms. The scientists on this study need the superiority of the human mind to distinguish faint galaxies from artefacts. To get started click on the image above and to take part in the survey. Read more about the project here: