Saturday’s the Summer Solstice: Five signs we’ve reached (another) Houston summer

Saturday’s the official beginning of summer! The day with the most sunlight (in the northern hemisphere), we’re now in the time of short shorts, trips to the beach, ice cream and vacations (and our Mixers & Elixirs Summer Solstice Party).

But summer in Houston is unique. We certainly know how to have a good time, but the weather doesn’t always make that easy. Here are five signs that we’ve reached summer in Houston:

YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE SWIMMING (WITHOUT THE REFRESHING PART)

The humidity in Houston is nothing to scoff at. Seriously. Stepping outside now feels like stepping into a hot mouth — or like you’re swimming, except you’re overheating.


AIR CONDITIONING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE

Seriously, try and stay cool folks. Heat stroke is a real problem for Houstonians, especially for those on the younger or older ends of the age spectrum from June until August. Here are some helpful tips to keep cool.

YOUR ELECTRIC BILL HAS DOUBLED IN THE LAST MONTH

Again, AIR CONDITIONING = LIFE. However, this means your electric bill will almost certainly be the highest it’s been all year, especially if you’re using window units. Here are a few ways to be more efficient and lessen the impact

FORGETTING YOUR SUNGLASSES IS THE WORST THING THAT CAN HAPPEN

We’re no strangers to sunlight, but it just. gets. so. intense. Keep an extra pair in your car (you’ll be glad that first time you forget). Besides being able to see on the road, you’ll want them on whenever you’re outside to help fight against skin cancer, cataracts and macular degeneration

SLEEVES AND PANTS ARE NOW THE ENEMY

It’s just too hot to wear any more clothing than you need to remain decent in public. Besides, sweating is your natural way to keep cool. Don’t let fabric get in between you and comfort.

Now for some sweet relief: you can always come visit us and enjoy our cool exhibits away from the summer sun! So what are you waiting for?! 

And of course, you can beat the heat with Mixers & Elixirs this Saturday, June 21 at our Summer Solstice Party. Because when the Houston heat and HMNS coolness come together, things are bound to get steamy — the good kind.

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Break out the sunscreen, ’cause here comes the Summer Solstice

This star map shows the Houston sky at 10 pm CDT on June 1, 9 pm CDT on June 15, and dusk on June 30.  To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom.  Jupiter sets in the west in Gemini, the Twins. The Big Dipper is as high as it gets in the north. Leo, the Lion, is high in the west at dusk. From the Big Dipper’s handle, arc to Arcturus and then speed on to Spica in the south.  Saturn left of Spica in Libra.  Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila form the Summer Triangle in the east, as Scorpius and Sagittarius rise in the southeast.  Summer has arrived.

This star map shows the Houston sky at 10 p.m. CDT on June 1, 9 p.m. CDT on June 15, and dusk on June 30. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. Jupiter sets in the west in Gemini, the Twins. The Big Dipper is as high as it gets in the north. Leo, the Lion, is high in the west at dusk. From the Big Dipper’s handle, arc to Arcturus and then speed on to Spica in the south. Saturn is left of Spica in Libra. Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila form the Summer Triangle in the east, as Scorpius and Sagittarius rise in the southeast. Summer has arrived.

This month, Jupiter remains in the evening sky for one more month. Look for it low in the west at dusk, outshining all the stars we ever see at night. 

Mars is in the southwest at dusk this month. Mars continues to fade a little each night as Earth continues to leave it farther behind. Still, Mars rivals the brightest stars we see at night.

Saturn was up all night long last month. Now, it remains well-placed for evening observing. Look low in the southeast at dusk.

Venus remains in the morning sky. Look east at dawn for the brightest point of light there; only the Sun and Moon outshine Venus. Venus remains a morning star for almost all of 2014.

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, the 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.  

Moon Phases in June 2014:

1st Quarter: June 5, 3:40 p.m. 
Full: June 12, 11:13 p.m.
Last Quarter: June 19, 1:39 p.m.
New: June 27, 3:09 a.m.

 

Summer Solstice 2014

At 5:51 a.m. on Saturday, June 21, the Sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer — the farthest point north where the Sun can be overhead. This therefore marks our summer solstice. On this date, those of us in the northern hemisphere experience the longest day and shortest night of the year, and the midday Sun is as high as possible in the sky. From the Southern Hemisphere, the Sun is as low as possible in the sky on June 21. Folks down there have their shortest day and longest night on their winter solstice. 

Interestingly, we see our earliest sunrise on June 11 and latest sunset on July 1. These are not on the solstice because Earth does not orbit the Sun at constant speed. Rather, Earth speeds up a little near perihelion (January) and slows down a little near aphelion (July).  Thus, for a period extending 10 days before and after the solstice, both sunrise and sunset occur a little later each day. (This close to the solstice, the difference in the height of the Sun each day changes only imperceptibly, allowing this small secondary effect to dominate). As most of us sleep through sunrise and are awake at sunset, days will seem to lengthen all the way through June.

Looking for a cool way to ring in the summer heat? Come out for our Summer Solstice party (part of our Mixers & Elixirs series) on June 21!

Want to learn more about the night sky? Click here for the HMNS Planetarium Schedule.

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. 

Clear skies!

TGIS: The Summer Solstice is cause to celebrate

It’s been a long week, and we know just what we need to kick back: lots and lots of daylight.

So if today feels like it’s been a long day, that’s because it has been. In fact, it’s been the longest day of the year! The sun appears farthest in the north today, making today the Summer Solstice.

TGIS, amirite?

For ancient Egyptians, the Summer Solstice marked the beginning of the Nile’s great flood season. During the Pharaonic Period, the Summer Solstice also coincided with the first appearance of Sirius, the “dog star,” which was also recognized as the beginning of the Egyptian New Year.

Happy New Year!

It was a time of major celebration in Egypt, and people were given small
faience water flasks inscribed with a hieroglyphic text that read  “Happy New Year!”

We’ll keep our Gregorian NYE, but we don’t need much reason to celebrate the weekend. Happy Solstice!

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: June 2013

Mercury and Venus are together in the west at dusk. Venus outshines everything but the Sun and Moon, so you can begin observing it during deep twilight. Once you’ve found Venus, look for the dimmer Mercury, which will be above Venus and a little to its left in early June. The crescent Moon is near the pair on June 10. After mid-month, we see Mercury reverse field and head back into the glare of the Sun.

Saturn is now an evening object, shining in the southeast at dusk. Although not as bright as Venus, it does outshine the stars around it, so you can’t miss it. Mars and Jupiter are out of sight on the far side of the Sun this month.

sky map june 2013

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.

Moon Phases in June 2013:

New                                June 8, 10:58 a.m.
First Quarter                  June 16, 12:24 p.m.
Full                                 June 23, 6:33 a.m.
Last Quarter                  June 29, 11:54 p.m.

At 12:04 am on Friday, June 21, the Sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer, the farthest point north at which the Sun can be overhead. This is therefore the summer solstice. On this date, those of us north of the equator enjoy more daylight and less night than on any other date of the year. In the Southern Hemisphere, folks experience the longest night and the shortest day, and the season is winter.

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. I generally do one such tour on short May nights.

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