Astronomy: June Sky Watch

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Get outside for summer stargazing fun in June! With weather warming up, June is a great time to enjoy relaxing evenings under starry skies with your telescope or astronomy binoculars.

Here are a few of my top picks for June stargazing:

  • The Moon & Mars Red planet Mars will appear to creep within about two degrees (about 4 lunar diameters) of the Moon on the night of June 7th. This conjunction will be visible from moonrise to moonset, so get outside and enjoy the view!
  • Ringed Saturn Throughout all of June, the ringed planet will be an attractive target for stargazers. Use an eyepiece that will yield at least 40x in your telescope to catch views of Saturn’s beautiful rings and brighter orbiting moons. Larger telescopes and clear, dark skies will help you see a thin gap between Saturn’s rings, which is called the Cassini Division.
  • Swirling Spirals – Around 10pm in mid-June, two glorious, face-on spiral galaxies M51 and M101 will both be in a great position for viewing and imaging. While you can see these great galaxies with a humble 60mm refractor, bigger telescopes will reveal finer details. Use a 10″ or larger reflector under dark skies to see the delicate spiral arms of M51.
  • Gems of the Summer Triangle – By 10pm in mid-northern latitudes, the Summer Triangle, comprising beacon stars Vega (in Lyra), Deneb (in Cygnus), and Altair (in Aquila), will be fully visible above the horizon. Several celestial gems lie within its confines, including the Ring Nebula (M57), the Dumbbell Nebula (M27), open star cluster M29, and the visually challenging Crescent Nebula (NGC 6888). To catch a glimpse of the elusive Crescent, you’ll almost certainly need a filter in a larger telescope.
  • Pretty Pair – On June 24th during daylight hours, the thin crescent Moon passes within 1 degree of our neighboring planet Venus. One degree is about the width of your pinky held at arm’s length. Knowing this proximity makes it easier to spot Venus in the daytime sky. Can you see it?
  • Summer is Globular Season! – Globular star clusters are densely packed balls of stars that are concentrated towards the center of the Milky Way. June skies offer some of the finest globular cluster viewing opportunities. You can catch globular clusters in 50mm or larger binoculars, but a 6″ or larger telescope at moderate to high power offers the best chances to resolve individual stars. In the constellation Hercules, look for M92 and the “Great Cluster” M13. In Scorpio, look for M4 and M80. The constellation Ophiuchus is home to six globulars – M10, M12, M14, M107, M9, and M19. Can you spot them all?
  • The Virgo Cluster – A treasure trove of galaxies can be explored if you point your 6″ or larger telescope towards the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Aim your telescope at galaxy M87 in the constellation Virgo and start scanning the surrounding night sky. How many galaxies can you see?
  • Summer Sky Challenge – Discovered in 1825 by the German astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, NGC 6572 is bright enough to be seen in a 60mm refractor telescope; but it is very, very small! At only 8 arc seconds in size, it takes a lot of magnification to distinguish this from a star. The easiest way to find it is to look in the target area for a green star. NGC 6572 is one of the most intensely colored objects in the night sky. Some say this is green, some say it is blue; what do you think?

Happy viewing!