Astronomy: June 22 – June 28, 2014

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Yesterday, Summer began in the northern hemisphere, with the summer solstice. In the image above, summer is on the far left. Conversely, in the southern hemisphere, this is a winter solstice. Between the solstices, are equinoxes, vernal and autumnal.

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Sunday, June 22 – Say goodbye to Jupiter as an evening planet. By an hour after sunset, the giant planet is near the horizon in the west, setting with its host constellation Gemini. Gemini is a winter constellation, and just above it in the west two early spring constellations are also diving into the sunset until next season; Leo and Ursa Major.

Look for Jupiter to return briefly as a morning planet during the first week of July, paired beautifully with Venus in the zodiacal constellation Taurus!

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Monday, June 23 – Venus is now it the constellation Taurus, paired strikingly with The Pleiades star cluster, and forming a great sweeping arc along a bright chain of stars beginning at the bright star Mirfak in Perseus.

Venus has been moving quickly eastward. Look at its position over the past two weeks, in the crux of Pisces, then brushing by Cetus the Whale. It will be in conjunction with Aldebaran on July 1, and meet up with Jupiter on the 9th.

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Tuesday, June 24 – Venus is certainly taking center stage! An hour before sunrise, take a pair of binoculars out and look at Venus above the eastern horizon. You should be able to view the planet, the Pleiades star cluster, and the thinnest sliver of a 26.8-day-old waning crescent Moon 1.3 degrees south of Venus!

Re-center with Venus near the top of your field of view, and in comes the older and much more dispersed Hyades star cluster. The bright red giant star Aldebaran is just on the horizon, 2 degrees south of the Moon.

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Wednesday, June 25 – It’s the first New Moon of summer!

Here begins the season for fun at big star parties. Today is opening day at the Golden State Star Party under the dark skies of northeastern California. Friends from all over are coming together to see their celestial best friends rising in the east with a brilliant Milky Way. Come join the fun at goldenstatestarparty.org.

Can’t make it to California? Look around, big star parties are happening all around.

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Thursday, June 26 – This evening brings us treats, from the shallows of our solar system to deeper pools of our galaxy. Mars and Saturn shine brightly to the south. Saturn is 857 million miles from us. At the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) it is 1.28 light hours away. Mars is just 8 light minutes away.

The summer band of the Milky Way (rising to the east of Antares in this picture) is about 20,000 light years distant. It is the nearest arm of our galaxy. With a telescope, on a dark night from a dark location, you can view galaxies up to half a billion light years away.

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Friday, June 27 – Alignments hold a near universal appeal when it comes to the heavens. Myriad instances exist in science and art; marking time at Stonehenge, or the Monolith Moon and Sun alignment in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey are examples. It is easy to imagine our ancestors’ fascination at such sights.

Today, the bright star Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster align with brilliant Venus above, capped equidistantly below the beautiful Pleiades star cluster. Is there special significance? Beauty such as this is always special.

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Saturday, June 28 – Let’s find a deep sky target during this New Moon cycle. NGC 4565 is perhaps the premier edge-on galaxy in the northern skies. It is a bright magnitude 10.4, and 16 by 2 arcminutes in size, making it quite large. In dark skies, it is easy to see its small bright core, long-extended spiral arms, and distinct dust lane bisecting its length. Relatively easy to locate in the constellation Coma Berenices, east of the Big Dipper and above Leo, look for a dim triangular patch in the sky, which is the wide-spread star cluster Melotte 111. The galaxy will be just above, and well worth the hunt.

Happy viewing!

Crash

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