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Our Friendly Skies

May 30, 2008

By ROD MARTIN, Planetarium Resource Teacher and ANDY SMETZER, Tristate Astronomers

Visible Evening Planets

MARS is low in the west after sunset.

JUPITER rises before midnight.

SATURN is low in the west after midnight.

In June, Mars and Saturn do a little dance in the western sky after sunset. Early in the month they set about four hours after the sun, but their altitudes decrease as the month passes and they set only a couple hours after the Sun by month's end.

Mars and Saturn approach each other this month in preparation for their close conjunction in early July. Watch Mars move toward the bright star Regulus this month, with a close approach on June 30.

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Jupiter becomes easier to see this month in the evening sky. It is bright at -2.5 magnitude, but is low along the eastern side of the Milky Way in Sagittarius. It rises about three hours after sunset early in June, but only about one half hour after sunset by month's end.

Jupiter is a beautiful planet silhouetted against the starry backdrop of the Milky Way and clouds of nearby stars. Binoculars may show the four larger satellites discovered by Galileo four hundred years ago.

Mercury and Venus are too close to the Sun to be seen this month; however, Mercury may be visible up to an hour before sunrise late in June.

Pluto reaches opposition on June 20. That marks the middle of the best time to see this elusive dwarf planet. You will need a good star chart and a fairly good-sized telescope to spot the planet among the background stars of northwestern Sagittarius.

If skies are clear, you might see the moon occult, or pass, directly over the planet Neptune on the morning of June 23. That morning, the sun rises around 5:43 a.m. At 3:53 a.m., the moon will touch the planet, Neptune covering it. Neptune will emerge from the dark portion of the moon around 5:16 a.m. Neptune is not very bright at magnitude +7.8, so use binoculars or a telescope if you have them available.

Sun and moon

In June, the sun reaches a milestone location among the stars called the summer solstice. The solstice is the point in the sky where the center of the sun reaches its highest location, about 23.5 degrees above the celestial equator or about 73.5 degrees above our horizon. On Earth, the sun would be directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer. This marks the day with maximum daylight and minimum nighttime.

The solstice occurs June 20 at 7:59 p.m. Since Earth's orbit is elliptical instead of circular, Earth travels at different speeds at different locations. That makes the earliest sunrise and latest sunset occur on different days. The earliest sunrise is on June 14 at 5:43 a.m. The latest sunset is on June 27 at 8:43 p.m. The longest day is June 20, with 14 hours and 59 minutes of daylight.

On June 1, the sun rises at 5:45 a.m. and sets at 8:33 p.m., for 14 hours and 48 minutes of daylight. On June 30, the sun rises at 5:47 a.m. and sets at 8:43 p.m., for 14 hours and 56 minutes of daylight. The sun enters the constellation Gemini the Twins from Taurus the Bull on June 21.

The next new moon is June 3, first quarter is June 10, full moon is June 18, and last quarter is June 26.

Brish Planetarium/Tristate Astronomers

Planetarium programs will resume in October with "Galaxies."

Watch the planetarium or Tristate Astronomers Web sites for more information. Check www.tristateastronomers.org and click on "Brish Planetarium."

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