June 27, 2012

Delightful Sights for early Summer Nights!

I stepped out on my deck the other evening at around 11 pm local time just to look around. Earlier this week our area was treated to a stretch of unseasonably mild weather, daytime temps in the low 80’s, nights around 60 with low humidity.
I am glad I did because I was treated to a reminder of why the star patterns visible late evenings in June are among my favorites. Two of the zodiacal constellations appearing now which are easiest to spot and really resemble what they are “supposed” to represent are the Lion and the Scorpion.

28-jun-12-0230-w-horizon-90.gif Late evenings in June and early July are the best time to catch them gracing opposite corners of the southern horizon. Around 10 pm Leo appears to the southwest. The Lion seems to be ready to leap over the western horizon and disappear into the night. By midnight he will be gone.

The chart at left shows the view to the southwest at 10:30pm local time, on the evening of June 27/28. Prepared using Your Sky

Casting a glance to the left while facing south the Scorpion can be seen slowly crawling above the southern horizon. Scorpius’ red giant heart, Antares, blazes in a fiery orange glow from a distance of over 600 light years. If Antares were at the heart of our solar system instead of our Sun all the planets out to Mars, including Earth, would be incinerated inside of it.

28-jun-12-0230-se-horizon-90.gif The view toward the south-south east toward constellation Scorpius. Above constellations Lyra, Aquila, Hercules and Corona Borealis can be seen. Can you spot the “keystone” in Hercules?

The brightest object in the sky, the Moon, is now one day past first quarter (27/28 June) and positioned between Saturn and Mars. See the chart. Yellowish Saturn is just east (left and above) the Moon. Rusty orange-red Mars is about 20 degrees west (right) of Luna and Saturn on this night. Compare the color of Mars to the Scorpion’s heart, Antares, and Arcturus the brightest star up in the western part of the sky.

Next turn 90 degrees to your left so you are facing east. Focus your gaze about halfway up above the eastern horizon and see whether you can discern the “Summer Triangle”. The three stars are, clockwise from the lower left, Deneb (Cygnus, the Swan), Vega (Lyra, the Harp) and Altair (Aquila the Eagle). Next look between the two brightest stars in the sky, the aforementioned Vega and Arcturus.

This one is a little difficult, especially in extremely bright, light polluted skies, but try to find constellation Hercules. The strong man’s most obvious feature is an asterism or group of stars resembling the outline of a keystone. Within that keystone, near it’s western edge is a beautiful globular cluster of stars which is called Messier 13 or M13. Binoculars or a telescope will be required to spot M13 except in the darkest of skies.

Finally, turn and face north. Can you spot Ursa Major, the Big Dipper? This time of year the BD is tipped with its “bowl” facing downward. Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper is standing upright on its handle, bowl high off your northern horizon just east of the Big Dipper.

I find the sight of the Lion and Scorpion majestically dancing above the southern horizon opposite each other one of the most breathtaking views in the night sky. Early last Spring I was venturing out at 3 am to enjoy this view. I just shared it with you for viewing at a much more convenient hour. Get out and enjoy it!

From Hubblesite enjoy this video on observing highlights for the month of June

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