January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Celestial Highlights for June 2013

Posted: Monday, June 3rd, 2013

by Robert Victor and Robert D. Miller

In evening twilight in June 2013, the brilliant evening “star” Venus gleams very low in the west-northwest, while Mercury lingers nearby during the first three weeks. Saturn glows yellowish and steadily well up in the south-southeast to south, contrasting with the twinkling blue-white star Spica just 13° to 12° to Saturn’s west (right).

On our evening all-sky chart, planets are plotted for each day when the Sun has sunk to 9° below the horizon, which we call “mid-twilight”. We have chosen that time, because we have found that by then, planets and stars of first magnitude or brighter are easily visible to the unaided eye, except those of lesser brightness low in the western twilight glow. In June, from Palm Springs, Los Angeles and other places near lat. 34° N, it takes until 46-47 minutes after sunset to reach mid-twilight. From northernmost California (lat. 42° N) this month, it takes about 9 minutes longer for the sky brightness to diminish to the same level.

Planet positions are represented by a separate dot for each date, with the positions for each Saturday in June (1, 8, 15, 22, 29), represented by a larger dot and labeled. We see that Jupiter is barely above the horizon on June 1. Rotate the chart until the portion of the horizon nearest to the cluster of planets low in WNW is at the bottom of the circle, and you’ll see the cluster depicted at the same orientation as in the sky: Jupiter 2.5° steeply lower right of Venus on June 1, and Mercury nearly as far to Venus’s upper left.

Note that Jupiter drops below the horizon in a couple of days, while Mercury and Venus climb a little higher each evening. But Mercury reaches its peak altitude for this apparition around the 8th of June, while Venus slows its climb and begins shifting to the left, or southward. In fact, Venus sets farthest north for this entire evening appearance – which lasts from late April 2013 until early January 2014 – on June 5, then starts a long southward trek until November 6, when Venus will set far to the southwest.

Getting back to events in June, Mercury lingers 5° above Venus for several days around June 6-7, then starts to move closer to Venus. Pick out the planet dots for June 19; on that date Mercury-Venus will appear closest, 1.9° apart, with rapidly fading Mercury passing to the south (lower left) of Venus. Mercury dots are shown through June 27, but in practice we’ll lose sight of it sooner: Mercury fades to mag. +1 by June 18, and to mag. +1.6 by June 22, as it heads down toward the near side of the Sun and becomes backlighted. Use binoculars to keep Mercury in view until the last possible date. By the last week in June, Venus will be the only planet remaining of the beautiful compact planet trio we enjoyed in late May.

One other planet resides in our June evening sky: Saturn tracking from SSE to S in mid-twilight as June progresses. The reason it drifts that way is that our Earth is moving in orbit around the Sun, overtaking the outer planets. Stars on our chart drift westward for the same reason: The revolution of Earth around the Sun. Notice the blue-white first-magnitude star Spica 13° to 12° to the west (right) of Saturn and preceding it as both objects go westward across the sky. The stars’ daily positions aren’t plotted as individual dots, but are simply represented by tracks as the stars go west (counter-clockwise around the North Star) in the course of the month, or during a single night.

The brightest star in June’s evening sky is Arcturus, high above Saturn and Spica and forming a large triangle with them. When the Big Dipper becomes visible, you can “follow the arc (of the handle) to Arcturus and drive a spike to Spica.”

Next after Arcturus in brilliance is Vega, climbing in the northeast. Compare the colors of these two stars! To Vega’s lower left is Deneb, and ascending into view later in the evening or later in the month is Altair, completing the Summer Triangle. Climbing in the southeast is reddish Antares, heart of the Scorpion.

In the west to northwest in early June is a curved arch of four stars topped by Pollux (and Castor, not shown because it’s just a little fainter than the magnitude +1.5 limit of our chart). These two stars make up the heads of Gemini, the Twins. To the Twins’ lower left is Procyon, the Little Dog Star, and in the northwest, anchoring the northern end of the arch, is Capella, the Mother Goat Star, ranking next after Vega in brightness.

Ranking last in brightness of the 16 stars of first magnitude or brighter visible in the course of a year from southern California is +1.4-mag. Regulus, heart of Leo, the Lion. Watch Regulus descend the western sky during June and July, before it passes on the far side of the Sun around August 23.

During June 10-23, the Moon is above the horizon in evening mid-twilight. Follow it nightly as it waxes, or grows, from a thin crescent on June 10, through First Quarter (half full) on June 16, to Full on the night of June 22-23. The Moon passes, in order, Venus and Mercury on June 10, the Twins on June 11, Regulus on June 13 and 14, Spica and Saturn during June 17-19, and Antares on June 21.

Source: Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The  quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11.  http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

Source: Abrams Planetarium
A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11.
http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

These diagrams from the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar  illustrate the Moon’s changing position against background stars in June, and Venus and Mercury in various pretty arrangements with stars Pollux and Castor. For information on Sky Calendar and a past sample issue, visit www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/

Full Moon at 4:32 a.m. PDT on Sunday, June 23 nearly coincides with the closest perigee of the year, 221,824 miles from Earth.

From southern California on Saturday, June 22, the Moon rises in the east-southeast about 38 minutes before sunset. On Sunday morning, June 23, the Moon sets in WSW 19 minutes after sunrise (the Moon having been up all night). And on that Sunday evening, the Moon rises in ESE 21 minutes after sunset. Does the Full Moon at rising or setting seem unusually large this month? But note that the Moon at rising or setting always seems large (the “Moon illusion”), even when it is at its most distant from Earth.

Looking ahead, watch for a fairly close pairing of Venus and Saturn at dusk in mid-September. In the following weeks, Venus will become a fascinating target for telescopes afternoons and evenings until early January 2014. In late November and early December 2013, four bright planets and Comet ISON will be simultaneously visible at dawn. In winter and spring 2014, Earth will overtake Jupiter in January, Mars in April, and Saturn in May, giving each planet its turn at peak brilliance and all-night visibility. Two total lunar eclipses and a partial solar, all visible throughout California, will round out the calendar year 2014.

Robert D. Miller did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

 

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.

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