Look North in June

As we approach the Summer Solstice here in Kendal, hoping for the annual glimpse of rain ringed Sun, the short nights and all night twilight may suggest that astronomy becomes a little dull. But not necessarily so. To the north, three things could be happening that are known to put on quite a show. Only one of them requires a telescope or binoculars to see at the moment, and even that might not do so for long.

Comet McNaught (C/2009 R1) presently stands in the constellation of Perseus at the very limit of visibility. For an up to date finder chart click here (provided by Heavens Above) and information on its likely evolution is here. The BAA has some information here and Cumbrian Sky also has a finder’s chart here. Over the course of the month, it is expected that the comet will brighten, maybe up to 2nd magnitude, maybe not. As it is a new comet, the level of brightening is entirely hypothetical. To see it, look towards the north between 12-2 and a little off the horizon. Even in its diminished state, it is very visible in binoculars or a small telescope (or a snap with a camera exposed for long enough). The further north you are, the higher in the sky it will appear (and therefore the less atmosphere there is to look through). But the further north you are, the brighter the night time sky becomes at this time of year, which then makes the comet less visible to the naked eye.

We are entering the season for Noctilucent Clouds too (see my earlier post here and the Cumbrian Sky guide here). These crowd over to the north and as the first reports are coming in, so long as we can get the other clouds out of the way, we should see something…

And finally, there is the aurorae, which at this latitude can look like a greenish white band of disconnected twilight weaving its way a little above the horizon to the north (unless there’s a really big show, in which case we get a lot more). The Sun’s getting more active at the moment and spitting stuff out every now and again. This post has information on aurora alert services and ways to check out the geomagnetic disturbance levels. You don’t even need to know what a geomagnetic disturbance is.

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