Go Stargazing! June Edition

June 1, 2009

Creative Commons License photo credit: KingArthur10

Sautrn remains well placed in the evening sky this month.  Look for it in the south-southwest at dusk. 

Jupiter, in the south at dawn, is the brightest thing in that part of the sky unless the Moon is nearby (as it is on June 13.) 

Venus is a dazzling morning star this month.  Look east right as day begins to break for the brightest thing there except for the Moon.  Venus remains the ‘morning star’ for the rest of 2009. 

Mars is a little higher in the east at dawn than it has been.  Still, it remains fairly dim.  On the morning of Sunday, June 21, Venus passes within two degrees of Mars.  Look for Mars slightly above Venus and to its left.  This is quite a mismatched pair; Venus is about 100 times brighter than Mars. 

Look high in the west at dusk for stars in the shape of a backwards question mark, with a right triangle to the left of that.  These stars are in Leo, the Lion.  Saturn is under the ‘right angle’ in that right triangle.  The Big Dipper is highest on spring evenings.  From the Big Dipper’s handle, you can “arc to Arcturus.”  Arcturus, in the east at dusk, is the fourth brightest star we ever see at night and will be the brightest star in our night skies during all of June and July. Continuing the curve of the Big Dipper’s handle past Arcturus, you can “speed on to Spica,” a star low in the southeast at dusk.  Spica represents a stalk of wheat held by Virgo, the Virgin, who is in fact the harvest goddess.

Rising in the southeast at dusk is Antares in Scorpius, the Scorpion.  This is a red super-giant star about 700 times as wide across as our Sun.  In the northeast, the Summer Triangle is entering the evening sky.  Vega, the brightest of the triangle’s three stars, is already up at dusk.  The other two stars, Deneb and Altair, are up by 11:00 on June 1.  By month’s end, the whole triangle rises at dusk. 

Moon Phases in June 2009:

Full                                    June 7, 1:11 pm
Last Quarter                  June 15, 5:15 pm
New                                   June 22, 2:35 pm
1st Quarter                     June 29, 6:28 am

Golden Light
Creative Commons License photo credit: Paulo Brandão

At 12:45 am on Sunday, June 21, the Sun is overhead at the Tropic of Cancer and thus is as high as possible in our skies.  This is the summer solstice.  Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we have more daylight on this date than on any other date of the year. 

However, the earliest sunrise occurs on June 11, while the latest sunset is June 30.  Since most of us sleep through sunrise and witness sunset, the days seem to lengthen slightly until the end of the month, when in fact they begin getting shorter after the 21st.  As we approach the summer solstice each year, the Sun appears higher and higher in our skies.  As a result, it takes a longer apparent path across our skies; sunsets occur later and sunrises occur earlier throughout the spring.  But there is very little change in the Sun’s apparent height near the solstice itself.  For example, the Sun is already 82.33333 degrees high at midday in Houston; it will be 83.6666667 degrees high at midday on the solstice.  With such little change in the Sun’s height in June, a different effect dominates—the equation of time.  From June 11-30, both sunrise and sunset get a little later each day. 

Click here for more on the equation of time.

Authored By James Wooten

James is the Planetarium Astronomer at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. He teaches students every school morning in the planetarium, and also answers astronomy questions from the public.

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