Jun 03

What’s Up in the Sky

What’s Up in the Sky – June, 2019

The Start of a New Season

Newcomers to the hobby of amateur astronomy quickly learn that observing objects and events of interest takes preparation and planning as well as cooperative weather. Part of the planning is knowing what to look for and when to see it. Another part is matching the observing experience with the age/interest level of the participants. The whole family can enjoy and appreciate the beauty of a sunset while the older kids can stay up later and do some binocular observing.

But, no matter what your experience level is, consider attending an organized observing session at a state or county park near you. Holland residents and visitors can enjoy public observing at both Holland State Park and Hemlock Crossing County Park and similar events that take place at parks statewide.

One downside of June is that it gets dark so late that telescopic observing can stretch well past midnight. The good news is, there are plenty of interesting and unique things that are not hard to find.

Beginning this Tuesday, June 4th, get out to the lakeshore (or any location with a clear view to the west) about forty five minutes past sunset and look toward the western horizon. As the sky darkens each night, look for a very thin crescent Moon and two bright planets, Mercury and Mars. On each successive night the Moon will appear higher and to the left (south) compared to the previous night. The crescent will also become larger each night, hence the term “waxing crescent”.

On Thursday, June 6, do a binocular scan up and to the left of the Moon and you should be able to see M44, the Beehive Cluster. Known since antiquity, it is a cluster of several hundred stars spanning an area of sky about the size of the full Moon. It has been described as a swarm of bees when seen through binoculars, hence the name.

If you’ve been out in the early night lately you may have noticed a very bright star-like object rising in the southeast and gaining altitude each night. That is actually the planet Jupiter and it will be with us all summer. On June 15 and 16 the almost-full Moon will be close by on either side of the planet. On the fifteenth, the two are joined by the star Antares and complete a lovely triangle.

Top off your June observing with a challenge. Starting at about 10:00 pm on the sixteenth, scan the west-northwest horizon with binoculars and return to Mercury and Mars. They should be the brightest objects nearby, much brighter than Castor and Pollux, just above them. Observe each night and watch the two planets change position with respect with one another. I highly recommend this observation. Opportunities to observe Mercury are relatively rare so to have another planet very close by is extremely unique. And you don’t even have to get up early to enjoy what’s up in the sky.

This month in history:
June 3: Gemini IV astronaut, Ed White, takes America’s first space walk – 1965
June 8: First unpowered glide test of X-15 – 1959
June 10: Mars rover “Spirit” launched – 2003
June 16: Valentina Tereshkova first (and only solo) woman in space – 1963
June 18: Sally Ride becomes first American woman in space – 1983
June 22: Evidence of liquid water on Mars announced by NASA – 2000
June 30: Tunguska impact flattens hundreds of miles of Siberian forrest – 1908