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Sky Watch: June 2014

Our galaxy, the Milky Way. Credit: NASA

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Here are the monthly sky watch highlights. Each month, we share the wonders of the universe to help you explore the night sky from your own backyard. (Note: Times listed below are ET.)

June 2014

by Bob Berman, as featured in
The Old Farmer's Almanac

The Moon performs several beautiful close conjunctions this month during the short hours of night.

  • It passes just below Mars on the 7th. Although the Red Planet now fades to magnitude –0.3, it still outshines spring’s brightest star, Arcturus, which has the same color, albeit a paler version.
  • On the 10th, the Moon passes closely to the left of Saturn, whose magnitude of 0.2 is just half the brightness of Mars.
  • The Moon is at its fullest on June 13. Click here for Full Strawberry Moon phase dates, fact, and folklore.
  • The Moon stands very close to invisible Pluto in Sagittarius on the 13th and, on the 14th, to the right of fading Venus, low in dawn’s brightening twilight. 

Summer begins with the solstice on the 21st, at 6:51 A.M. See our summer solstice page!

Sky Map

Astronomer Jeff DeTray has created the sky map below to help you navigate the heavens!
Visit Jeff's site at AstronomyBoy.com

This month's highlights: A Panorama of Planets and a Celestial Tongue-Twister.

The always lovely month of June offers us a gorgeous line-up of stars and planets this year. Although our Sky Map is usually drawn for the middle of the month, the view will be essentially the same for the entire month of June. So pick a clear night and enjoy the show.
 
Looking toward the west, you'll find the planet Jupiter hanging not far below the bright star Pollux, one of the Gemini twins. Jupiter is considerably brighter than Pollux, and our view of it differs in another way as well. Where the star (Pollux) will appear to twinkle or shimmer, the planet (Jupiter) glows with a steadier light. And so it is with all stars and planets: Stars twinkle and planets don't.
 
The reason has to do with Earth's atmosphere and the distances to celestial objects. Stars are so far away that they are essentially single points of light. This makes our view of them greatly influenced by turbulence in the atmosphere, and so they appear to dance around or twinkle. Planets are much closer to us than stars, close enough that they have a measurable size. This makes our view of planets appear more steady. Having said that, under high magnification in a telescope, planets shimmer and dance, too. We just don't notice it with our eyes alone.
 
Now let your gaze move to the left to the next bright object. That will be twinkling Regulus, the bright star at the heart of Leo, the Lion. Leo is one of the few constellations that truly resembles its namesake. The brightest stars of Leo make the recognizable outline of a Lion.
 
Next in our tour of the June sky is the planet Mars, followed by the bright star Spica, both located in the constellation Virgo, the Virgin. Note the color difference between these two objects. Mars is known as the Red Planet and appears as faintly yellowish or a washed out orange color compared to the brilliant white of Spica. 
 
Farther to the left you will find the planet Saturn in the constellsation Libra, the Scales or Balance (a device used to weigh things) being held by Virgo. Saturn is currently located between a pair of stars with unusual names. Above Saturn is Zubeneschamali, and below Spica is Zubenelgenubi. Extra points if you can pronounce these two star names! The names of these stars are derived from the Arabic for The Northern Claw and The Southern Claw and refer to a time when the stars of Libra were considered part of the constellation Scorpius, the Scorpian, which is off the left edge of this month's Sky Map. Libra became identified as a constellation in its own right more than 2,000 years ago, but the even more ancient names of its two brightest stars persist.
 
Lastly, on the left edge of our map is the star Antares, the Heart of Scorpius, the Scorpian. Antares is a notably reddish star, and its name comes from the Greek phrase "anti-Ares," meaning "anti-Mars." Ares is the ancient Greek word for Mars, and the name Antares refers to the fact that the star and the planet Mars have a similar reddish color. Antares is a supergiant star more than 800 times the size of our Sun.
 
The four bright stars we have mentioned—Pollux, Regulus, Spica, and Antares—are all among the 25 brightest stars in the sky. If you look up toward the top of this month's Sky Map you can see Arcturus, and all the way to the right, Castor, two more of the 25 brightest stars. That's six bright stars and three bright planets, not bad for one night in June.
 

Sky Map June 2014

Sky map produced using Chris Marriott's Skymap Pro

Explore the sky night from your own backyard. A printable black and white map is provided below!

Sky Map June 2014 PrintableClick for Printable JUNE Sky Map (PDF)
Just click, print, and bring outside!

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Comments

Odd thing is, I saw three

By doni

Odd thing is, I saw three bright lights fly through the air at the same time-9:15pm(central-time)...Over fond du lac, wi. I know what air plains look like at night...those were not it. Any idea as to what they were??

Looking up from Blackwood,

By Robert Maimone

Looking up from Blackwood, NJ, and to the S. E, I saw a bright flash of White burst or Flash of bright light, that only lasted a second, but was a experience that I'll never forget on 6/21/14@10:10pm. Any suggestions for what I saw would be appreciated. Thank You.

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