Sunday, June 1, 2014

June 2014: Month at a Glance

The arrival of June also heralds the first day of summer and thus, the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Since the length of day/night varies with latitude (the more North you go, the more extreme the lighting), not all people will be having equal length nights on the longest day of the year. Now the good news: the summer sky is a cosmic picture book.

Cool Constellations
By the time June arrives, some of the Spring constellations are already taking their annual dives out of view. Among these are Corvus, Crater, Hydra, Cancer, and, to a lesser extent, Leo. By the arrival of June, the Big Dipper signpost is starting to become obsolete. As the Dipper begins its annual dive, on the other end of the arc,Corvus and Crater are already disappearing but Bootes and Virgo are coming into their best placements of the year. By the time July comes, you'll only be able to speed on to Spica.
Besides the already mentioned herdsman and virgin, Corona, Hercules, the Summer Triangle (made up of constellations Lyra, Cygnus, and Aquila), Ophiuchus, and Serpens are all flying high at this time of year, too. For those who like to stay up later, Libra and Scorpius are also on the rise, as is deep sky treasure trove Sagittarius along with the ghostly arch across the sky that is the Milky Way. By the time the sky starts to brighten around 4:30am (sunrise is before 5:55 in mid month), a fall preview in the form of Pegasus, Andromeda, Aries, Capricorn, Aquarius, and even Pisces Australis is on tap, too.

Planetary Perceptions
On the planet front, June is shaping to be a good month for planet viewing. First of all, there's elusive Mercury, which appears at dusk at the start of the month. Don't wait, though, the little planet won't be visible for long! Additionally Jupiter, the king of the planets, is rapidly disappearing, too. At the start of the month, it sets about 3 hours after the Sun. By month's end, Jupiter sets only about an hour after the Sun. Needless to say, the time to view Jupiter is very limited. In the evening, June also presents the last chance to catch Mars under truly dark skies. Moving into the night, Saturn is visible most of the night, the only bad news is that it is rather low, which means that telescopic viewing might be rather problematic thanks to its low elevation and having to look through a lot of atmosphere. Moving to the morning, Venus, third brightest object in the sky, is visible in the hours before sunrise all month.

Tonight's Sky for June 1: The Shortest Nights Are Upon Us

June brings a seasonal change: the transition from spring to summer for 2014. In addition to the new season, the transition to summer also means another thing to astronomers: the shortest nights of the year. When the Summer Solstice occurs, it will signal the shortest night of the year, though for most of June and July, the nights will not be noticeably longer. Bottom line: since there are so few hours of darkness, make the most of them when doing astronomy!

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