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Our Friendly Skies

June 06, 2007

By Rod Martin, Planetarium Resource Teacher and Andy Smetzer, Tristate Astronomers

Visible Evening Planets

VENUS is high in the west.

SATURN is high in the west.

JUPITER rises in the east at sunset.

MERCURY appears low in the west early in June.

Visible Morning Planets

MARS is low in the eastern twilight.

JUPITER sets in the west at sunrise.

This month's highlight has to be the rapid approach of Venus to Saturn. The two bright planets are within 10 degrees of each other most of the month, but make a beautiful close pair as June ends and July begins.

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Venus is by far the brightest planet at magnitude -4.2. This month, Venus travels through the constellations Gemini Twins, Cancer the Crab, and into Leo the Lion. It reaches greatest eastern elongation on June 8 to mark its greatest distance from the sun in the sky.

Saturn is high in the southwest in front of the nose of Leo the Lion. Saturn is fairly bright at magnitude +0.5. The head of the Lion is shaped like a backward question mark, with the bright star Regulus at its base.

Saturn and Regulus make a fine couple, with Saturn slightly brighter and farther west. About 25 power is needed to see Saturn's ring system.

Look for the fine Venus, Saturn, crescent moon grouping on June 18. The moon will split the distance between them that night. Then look for the VERY close pairing of Venus and Saturn at the end of the month.

Jupiter reached opposition on June 5. That is the time that Jupiter is directly opposite the sun in our sky. That means that Jupiter rises as the sun sets, is highest at midnight, and sets around sunrise. At -2.5 magnitude, it is brighter than anything in the night sky except the moon and Venus. It is in the constellation Ophiuchus above the star Antares in Scorpius. Binoculars may display the four larger satellites of the more than 60 which orbit the planet.

Mercury reached greatest elongation on June 2. It should be visible early in June low in the evening twilight between Venus and the sun's setting position. It will vanish into the twilight glare by month' s end as it reaches inferior conjunction on June 28.

Mars is becoming brighter and higher in the morning sky. At +0.8 magnitude, the red planet rises around 2 a.m. in June. Mars passes from the constellation Pisces into Aries.

Sun and Moon

The summer solstice occurs at 2:06 p.m. on June 21. That marks the time that the sun reaches its northernmost position above the equator. On Earth, that point marks the Tropic of Cancer, where the sun will be directly overhead. In our area, the noontime sun will be about 73 degrees above the horizon. It never gets directly overhead at our latitude.

Since Earth's orbit is elliptical, Earth has an orbital point closest to the sun and also farthest from the sun. The sun is actually closer to the Earth in January and farther in July. That means Earth travels fastest in the winter and slowest in the summer. These factors cause the exact time of noon to change. Noon is defined as when the sun is highest and directly south. However, because of the changing speed of Earth on its orbit, "noons" are not always exactly 24 hours apart.

Strange things happen. The longest day is the solstice on June 21, with 14 hours and 59 minutes of daylight. The earliest sunrise is June 15 at 5:43 a.m. The latest sunset is June 27 at 8:43 p.m.

On June 1 the sun rose at 5:45 and set at 8:32 p.m., for daylight of 14 hours and 47 minutes. By June 30, the sun rises at 5:46 a.m. sets at 8:43 p.m., and has daylight of 14 hours and 57 minutes. The sun enters the constellation Gemini on June 21 from Taurus the Bull.

This month, the moon is at last quarter is on June 8, is new on June 14, reaches first quarter on June 22, and is full June 30.

Brish Planetarium/Tristate Astronomers

Public planetarium programs have concluded for the current school year. They will resume in the fall with the Hubble Telescope Program, which was one of the most popular ones presented by the planetarium. The schedule will be released later in the summer.

Go to antpod.com to download or listen to "Skylights," the planetarium podcast. Provided by Antietam Cable and the Herald Mail Newspapers, monthly sky tours hosted by Rod Martin of the Brish Planetarium can be downloaded to help you find your way across the night sky.

For more information about the planetarium and Tristate Astronomers, visit their Web sites through www.tristateastronomers.org and navigate to the planetarium's page. To contact the planetarium, send e-mails to martirod@wcboe.k12.md.us.

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