The June Sky

Are you new to astronomy and looking for things to look at in the night sky? Maybe you want to see a planet, or learn a constellation. Maybe you have a new telescope and want to check out a galaxy or a globular cluster. Here are a few things to look for during June and July. For a complete map of the night sky, you can download a free map from SkyMaps.

The Moon

June 13 is the last quarter moon for this lunar cycle. The last quarter is a very good time for lunar viewing as the terminator (the area of the moon that separates the light and the dark) reveals some great lunar features that look flat otherwise. The shadows that the terminator provides let you really see three-dimensional details in the shadows.

The various craters and features of the moon can be overwhelming. The NASA Night Sky Network has a great moon handout that can make it easier. Try to find Tycho and use that as a signpost to find the rest of them. You can download that here. Good luck!


Mars, Jupiter & Saturn

The Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn

If you stay up late, or get up early, you can see Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the night sky. Jupiter and Saturn start to creep into the sky around 11pm, with Mars and the moon following about three hours after. The three planets don't official set until well after the sun rises, but the planets will be lost in the daylight glow. If you want to do some planetary viewing, try to head outside around 4:30am - 5am and see all four objects - the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars clustered together in the south/southeastern sky.


Constellations to Find

If you're just starting out, one of the best things to know about is the Summer Triangle, composed of the stars Vega, Altair and Deneb. These stars are located in the constellations Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila, respectively. You can use the locations of these stars to find your way around the sky. If you can find Vega, for example, you can use it to then "walk" to Hercules. These will rise earlier and earlier every night throughout the summer, but in mid-June they are rising in the eastern sky around 10pm, with Vega coming up first.

The constellations that these three stars are contained within also contain some wonderful deep-sky targets for those of you with a telescope.

The Ring Nebula

The Ring NebulaOpposite Vega, within the constellation Lyra, lies the Ring Nebula. This is a small target, but a telescope and a dark sky should be able to make it out. It's also really easy to find. Just put your telescope halfway between the "bottom" two stars of the constellation and it will pop right out at you.

The Ring Nebula is part of the Messierr catalogue at number 57. The Ring is a planetary nebula, meaning it is formed from the remnants of a dying, sun-like star. The Ring is about 2,000 light-years away from Earth.

If you want to learn more about the makeup and details of The Ring, check out this NASA article.


Albireo - The Double Star

Alberio sits at the head of the swan in the constellation Cygnus. To some, Cygnus also looks like a giant cross in the sky, which would make Alberio sit at the "bottom."

Alberio is a great target no matter what equipment you have. Just naked eye, the star is beautiful. With some high powered binoculars, you can just barely make out that Alberio is not one star, but two! With a telescope, you can see that the two stars are very different colors. One star is a bright gold, the other is a dark blue. Additionally, but not really viewable - the yellow star of the two is itself part of a double star system that is very tightly wound together. However, the double-star of Alberio is a true double-star system in that the stars orbit a common center of mass, and their alignment is not just due to the stars being close to each other based on their perspective from the Earth.


Step Up the Difficulty - The Dumbbell Nebula

Find the Dumbbell Nebula

The Dumbbell is a good target to go for once you're more confident with your scope. If you can find Deneb and Altair, you can figure out where the Dumbbell Nebula is by star-hopping to a location nearly right between the two. Learning how to do this well will be key to finding targets yourself and without go-to.

If you can find it, the Dumbbell is one of the most famous nebulas in the sky. This one, like The Ring, is also a planetary nebula and is just over 1,200 light-years from Earth. The Dumbbell is also part of the Messier catalogue of deep sky objects, coming in at number 27.

Check out this article from NASA: Dumbbell Nebula, for more on what gives this thing it's bright colors and unique shape.


That's it for this month! Good luck, get outside, and look at the stars!

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