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Touring the Skies

May 24, 2018
Northern-Sun Print
Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

By Jim Bonser ( Well, warm observing weather has finally returned and along with it, the planets! The evening sky in June will be lit up with them this month! Let’s hope for plenty of clear nights so we can enjoy the show! Last month, you remember that Jupiter reached opposition, which meant that it rose as the Sun set and was visible all-night long. Jupiter is a bit higher as the Sun sets this month and is joined in the eastern sky by Saturn with reaches opposition on June 27th. Venus steals the show in the west at dusk shining super bright with its highest elevation from the horizon happening on June 6th. Let’s talk about them one at a time in a little more detail starting with Venus. I met a little boy at the Marshalltown Library when the Amateur Astronomers of Central Iowa set up some posters and telescopes there for Astronomy Day. He was only about 5 or 6, but he already knew the names and order of the planets from the Sun and could identify several of them from pictures. He is an amazing little guy! I hope mom brings him to some of our public nights this summer. If I asked him the name of the second planet from the Sun, he would tell me “Venus!”. (I actually did ask him!) Would you have remembered? Well, Venus is really high and really bright in the western sky this month. Venus and Earth form a right triangle with the Sun near mid-month. Since Venus orbits closer to the Sun than we do, it also moves much faster in its orbit and so is getting closer to us this month. This will make it look brighter and also bigger if you have access to a telescope and choose to monitor it. It will go from magnitude -3.9 at the start of the month to magnitude -4.1 this month and it will grow from about 13” (13 arc seconds not inches) to more than 15” by the end of the month. It goes from an 80% lit waning gibbous phase to about a 70% lit waning gibbous phase at the end of the month. Venus and the Moon had a very nice conjunction (close pairing) in May and they will repeat the dance this month on the 15th and 16th. The Moon will be a very slender crescent about 7 degrees below Venus on the 15th and about 8 degrees above and to the left of Venus the next evening. I hope it will be clear on at least one of those nights - Brilliant Venus will look incredible paired with the thin crescent Moon! Little Mercury begins the month behind the Sun as June begins, but it pops into view near the western horizon around the middle of the month. Because Mercury is even closer to the Sun than Venus it moves even faster in its orbit around the Sun and by the end of the month will be around 10 degrees above the horizon a half hour after sunset on June 30th. Mercury will be getting pretty bright too, shining at about magnitude -0.0 that night. Venus will be about 17 degrees above and to the left of the speedy little planet. As June begins, Jupiter will shine brightly at about magnitude -2.5 high in the southeast around 9:30. Jupiter is about midway between bright white Spica to the west and bright orange Antares to its east. At midmonth, Jupiter crosses the Meridian (is due south) a little after 10 P.M., a great time to be observing the King of Planets with a telescope since that is when it will be highest in the sky and least affected by the atmosphere. Jupiter will be joined by a bright waxing gibbous Moon on Friday, June 23 and Saturday June 24th. If you happen to be out that weekend, be sure to look for Jupiter near the Moon. As I mentioned earlier, Saturn reaches opposition this month on the 27th, meaning it will be rising as the Sun sets. Since this happens so late in the month, you will still have to stay up fairly late for a good view in a telescope, but at least you will be able to identify the beautiful golden hued planet low in the southeast before bedtime (Well, bedtime for most normal people, not amateur astronomers, lol). On that night, a beautiful, bright, full Moon will be just a little over a degree slightly above and to Saturn’s left - a great photo-op! It will be challenging to capture because of the extreme difference in their brightnesses, but I may have to break out my 80mm scope and give it a try - should be fun! Binoculars mounted on a tripod should give a good view, especially a pair with a magnification of at least 10X. Finally, Mars is back! Mars will go from a tiny 15” to more than 20” wide this month as it heads for closest approach to Earth since 2003. Don’t worry, we are in no danger of colliding and Mars will not look as big as the Moon in the sky, contrary to some e-mail reports, but it will be big enough, especially in July, to observe details on its surface. I can’t wait! Mars rises around midnight on June 1st but it rises much earlier at the end of the month - around 10:30 p.m. The Moon will be just above and to the east of Mars on June 30, so if you are still up be sure to step out and enjoy a peek! Clear Skies!

Article Photos

Details of NGC4565 also called The Needle Galaxy
NGC4565 is an edge-on spiral galaxy in Coma Berenices. It is what astronomers believe our Milky Way galaxy looks from the side. It is between 30 and 50 million light years away, according to Wikipedia.
This is a stack of 12 5 minute exposures taken with my Astro-Tech 8' Ritchey-Chretien telescope and ZWO ASI071-MC Cool camera stacked and combined in DeepSky Stacker and processed in Images Plus and PhotoShop CC.



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