The nights are rapidly shortening now until the 21st, after which they lengthen once more. During the darkest hours, the Milky Way is visible overhead, and we still have planets at Dusk and Dawn. As with last month, this post is illustrated with a few sky charts showing midnight on the first, last and fifteenth day of the month. The dots represent brighter stars, green circles are star clusters, nebulae, galaxies and the like and the very brightest stars, the Moon and the planets are named when they appear. Sky charts provided using Stellarium.
Noctilucant clouds have begun making appearances over northern Europe. Look to the North after sunset to see these high clouds still illuminated by the Sun.
The Moon will be closest to Saturn on the 1st of June, close to Jupiter predawn on the 12th and close to Venus and Mars also predawn on the 19th. The Moon will be occulting several bright stars this month. These include: 172 B Sagittarii (magnitude 5.6) on the 10th at around 2:20 am; Lambda Piscium (4.5) on the 16th at around 2:47 am and 69 Virginis (4.8) on the 20th at 21:37.
Two possible meteor showers this month are the June Lyrids and the June Bootes on the 16th and 27th of June, respectively. The Lyrids appear past midnight, whereas the Bootes peak before dawn. It isn’t known if there will be significant activity this year.
Ceres will be half a degree from Theta Leonis on the 19th. Juno will be half a degree above the Moon on the 16th.
Mars is still rather dim at magnitude 1.2, but rises to higher and higher altitudes by sunrise as the month goes on, ending about 23 degrees above the horizon on the final day of June. On the 19th just before dawn, Mars will be just above Venus and a short distance below a thin waning crescent Moon.
Venus will be rising with Mars at much the same time, but will be a lot brighter at magnitude -4.2. Venus remains at a similar magnitude throughout the year as when it is farther from us, it is closer to a full Venus, whereas now, when it is close to us, it shows a crescent Venus. Venus will be 14 degrees above the horizon at Sunrise and will increase its sunrise altitude through the month.
Mercury has joined Venus and Mars in the predawn sky, reaching its greatest altitude above the rising Sun on the 13th. It will still be very low in the sky and pretty faint at magnitude 0.6 – made even fainter by the brightening of the sky at dawn.
Jupiter is improving in visibility over this month. It rises at 2am at the start of the month and 1am by the end, reaching an altitude of 24 degrees at this time. It is a good very bright star to the naked eye, increasing in magnitude from -2.5 to -2.7 during the month.
Saturn is heading into the twilight this month, still appearing just below the constellation of Leo as the Sun sets. It is an obvious bright dot below Leo by the naked eye, a yellow disc of magnitude 1 with a slender line through it through a telescope. This slender line, once the great rings of Saturn, will continue to thin and thin as Saturn approaches the point in its orbit where the rings will be edge on to the Earth. The rings, the moon Titan and some bands should be visible through even a small telescope – though a fast one like mine does wash out the bands. On June 10th, the five brightest satellites of Saturn will be lined up to the East of the planet.
Neptune rides on the coat-tails of Jupiter this month, remaining close to the star mu capricornis. On the morning of June 4th, the two planets will be separated by a mere half a degree. At a magnitude of 7.9 it won’t be visible to the naked eye (it never is) but it should be visible through binoculars or a telescope.
Uranus is in the south-western corner of Pisces and moves into darker skies this month, rising up to twenty degrees above the horizon in the southeast at the end of twilight. At magnitude 5.9, this planet is invisible to the naked eye, just, but visible in binoculars or a small telescope as it moves into the darker regions.
A few things outside the solar system
The pinwheel and whirlpool galaxies as well as the owl nebula are all available to see this month in and around the Big Dipper, which soon rises overhead after sunset.
The Ring Nebula, M57 lies in the constellation of Lyra, between the stars gamma and beta Lyra. Lyra is also notable for the bright star Vega. The constellation is pretty much overhead at sunset at the beginning of the month.
The Milky Way is a vast arch just to the East of Lyra, stretching across the sky. If you’re lucky enough to have a dark clear night, then it may be visible in the very darkest hours, looking rather like a broken thin cloud. This is our view towards the centre of our galaxy.
Lying along the Milky Way to the south is Cygnus the swan. Two nice sights can be seen topping and tailing the swan. The star representing its head, Albireo, is a well contrasting double star, with a bright yellow star besides a dimmer blue-green one. At the tail end, up and to the left of the tail star Deneb are a couple of clusters visible in binoculars – the North American Nebula and the Penguin Nebula, both named for what they appear to look like.
The Usual Stuff
If you want to watch satellites flaring or passing in the sky (even sometimes during the day), then go to Heavens Above to get times and directions. If you need assistance in deciding where things are in the sky, why not install the free program Stellarium, which does all the work for you? Finally, to avoid the dreaded clouds, Met Check gives a quick forecast and the Met satellites or other satellites can be used to track breaks in the cloud. For those ISS trackers amongst you, the International Space Station presently hovers above Kendal at around 5am.
Events up and down the country are available from the IYA2009 events page. Plus why not pop along to the Eddington Society, which meets at Kendal Museum on the first Monday of the month? This Monday is a member’s project night, with contributions from the audience.
Don’t forget to check back here and on my twitter account for the latest astronomical events in this area.