Seeing Stars with James Wooten: June 2012

June 4, 2012

Mars remains an evening object this month. Face south at dusk and look for a reddish star to the left of Regulus in Leo. However, Mars continues to fade a little bit each night as Earth pulls away from it. This summer, you can watch Mars quickly approach Saturn, which it will pass on August 15.

Saturn is now in the south at dusk this month. Saturn is just above the star Spica in Virgo.

Meanwhile, Jupiter emerges into the morning sky. Look for it low in the east/northeast at dawn; it outshines all stars in that direction.

sky map june 2012

Venus joins Jupiter in the morning sky by late June.  On June 5, Venus passes directly in front of — or transits — the Sun (see below). In the weeks after that, Venus shifts into the morning sky as it pulls ahead on its faster orbit.  The emergence of Venus into the morning sky is quite dramatic — the brightest celestial object aside from the Sun and Moon is noticeably higher each morning. By June 30, Venus will be close to Jupiter at dawn.

The Big Dipper is above the North Star, with its handle pointing up. From that handle, you can “arc to Arcturus” and then “speed on to Spica;” those stars are in the south at dusk. Leo the Lion is high in the west at dusk.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius the Scorpion, is in the southeast, with the “teapot” of Sagittarius rising behind it.  The Summer Triangle has fully risen in the northeast; the stars of summer are here.

Mercury takes Venus’ place as an evening star during June. Having just emerged from behind the Sun, Mercury enters the western sky at dusk, where it remains for the rest of the month.  Of course, Mercury is not nearly as bright as Venus, but it still outshines most stars.  Watch the sunset, then look for the brightest “star” in western twilight.  This is Mercury.  In July, it fades and leaves the evening sky.

Like last year, George Observatory opens to the public on Friday nights as well as Saturday nights during the summer.  Also, we’re adding a special “Sun-day” program on Sunday afternoons beginning June 10 that will feature solar observing on sunny days and Sun-related Discovery Dome shows if cloudy!

Moon Phases in June 2012:
Full                               June 4, 6:11 a.m.
Last Quarter                  June 11, 5:42 a.m.
New                              June 19, 10:02 a.m.
1st Quarter                     June 27, 10:29 p.m.

On Tuesday, June 5, Venus passes between Earth and Sun, and is not up at night. This happens every 584 days, and is normally no big deal. This time, however, the alignment is exact, and we can see Venus transit the Sun.  You can come observe this event at any of our three museum facilities.

Transit of Venus at HMNS

At 6:07 pm on Wednesday, June 20, the Sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer — the farthest point north where this is possible. This means the Earth’s North Pole is tilted towards the Sun as much as possible. Therefore, this date is the summer solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, we have more daylight and less night than on any other date.

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement.

To enjoy the stars in any weather from the comfort of the HMNS Planetarium, click here for a full schedule.

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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