Our Friendly Skies - June 2013

June 01, 2013|By CHRIS KOPKO/William Brish Planetarium and ANDY SMETZER/TriState Astronomers

A year has already passed since the transit of Venus and though there is nothing in the June sky quite so spectacular this month, there’s still plenty to see!  Let’s get started finding our way around the June sky.

As usual, we begin with the Big Dipper because it stands out in the night sky and is fairly easy for many people to find.  Locate the Big Dipper high in the northwestern sky with the handle made of three stars and the cup made of four.    Locate the two stars on the outside of the cup of the Big Dipper and follow an imaginary line through those two stars out the top of the cup until you reach the first bright star.  This star is called Polaris and is also currently the North Star because it’s the star that is closest to being directly overhead at the north pole of the earth.  It will not always be the pole star and it has not always been the pole star in the past, however, because the earth wobbles on its axis as it spins in much the same way as a top wobbles as you spin it on a floor.    Because of this wobble the north pole of the earth does not always point toward the same star, causing the North Star to change over time.  This wobble does not happen quickly though, so Polaris has been and will continue to be the North Star for centuries to come. The North Star is one of three stars that make the handle of the Little Dipper, while four stars make the cup.

Next, we’ll go back to the Big Dipper to help us find the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo the Lion.  Imagine poking holes in the bottom of the cup of the Big Dipper, then pouring some imaginary water into the cup.  The water would leak right out through those holes down to a backwards question mark shape that makes up the head of Leo the Lion. 
  The bright star Regulus is at the bottom of the question mark and is said to represent the heart of the lion.  From here turn about 90 degrees to the left and not too far above the horizon you will see a bright reddish colored star called Antares, which is part of Scorpius the Scorpion. 

Finally, we’ll turn another 90 degrees to the left so that we are now facing south.  Here we see the three bright stars that make up the asterism called the Summer Triangle.  The Summer Triangle begins with the star Vega, which is high in the eastern sky, and shines in a bluish white color.  Vega is part of Lyra the Harp. 
  Further down along the eastern horizon you we come to a bright white star shining between two dimmer stars.  This star is Altair and is often seen as the eye of Aquila the Eagle.  To find the third star of the Summer Triangle look to the northeast down the Milky Way, which is the milky band running across the sky if your location is dark enough to view it.  Here you will come to the bright star Deneb, which marks the tail of Cygnus the Swan. 

For a more detailed tour of the night sky check out Skylights, the monthly podcast tour of the night sky, downloadable at

The June solar system

Evening Planets

JUPITER will be just visible at the very beginning of the month, but will quickly fade from sight over the western horizon early in the month. 

VENUS and MERCURY will lose the third member of their trio early on in the western sky, but will both continue to be visible throughout the month.  Venus will slowly gain altitude over the western horizon, while Mercury will steadily lose altitude after June 7.  Mercury and Venus create a nice triangle with a waxing crescent moon in the early evening sky on June 10 and appear closest together in our skies on the evening of June 19. Be sure to look to the west at dusk to catch these objects of our solar system!

SATURN is high in the southern sky after sunset at the beginning of June and will still be a wonderful telescopic target throughout June for those interested in viewing its breathtaking rings.

NEPTUNE and URANUS will rise above the eastern horizon in the middle of the night and can only be viewed with optical aid.  Neptune rises first and can be found in the constellation Aquarius, while Uranus rises shortly after that in the constellation Pices.

Morning Planets
MARS will be back in the early morning eastern sky this month and can be spotted a little before sun rise as the month wears on.

June sun and moon

On June 1, sunrise is at 5:45 a.m. and sunset at 8:32 p.m. for 14 hours and 47 minutes of daylight.  By June 31, sunrise will occur at 5:46 a.m. with the sun setting later in the evening at 8:43 p.m. for 14 hours and 57 minutes of daylight, a 10-minute increase from the beginning of the month.
The new moon is on June 8, first quarter on June 16, full moon on June 23 and third quarter moon on June 30.   

Special events
  June 20 marks the first day of summer, or the Summer Solstice.  As the earth moves in its orbit around the sun, the seasons change due to the 23.5-degree tilt of the earth on its axis.    Here in North America, the sun appears highest in the sky on the first day of summer due to the tilt of the northern hemisphere toward the sun.  As the earth continues its journey around the sun, the northern hemisphere tilts less toward the sun, causing the days to shorten as we move toward the fall. Another interesting occurrence of note is that the biggest moon of 2013 will occur on the evening of June 22 and will last throughout the night.  This occurs because the moon is at its closest point to the earth, a mere 222,000 miles away!  This is also being called a “Super Moon” because it’s at its closest point to the earth for the year at the same time that the moon reaches its full phase. has a great visual to see just how much bigger the moon will look than on average.    If you want to learn more about the phases of the moon, check out Astronomy Cast’s Episode 234 on Lunar Phases, found at iTunes or

William Brish Planetarium/TriState Astronomers

The William Brish Planetarium is closed for the summer and will reopen for public programs in September.  For more information, visit

The next meeting for the TriState Astronomers will be held at the William Brish Planetarium on Wednesday, September 18 at 7:30PM.  All are welcome!  For more information visit:

The Herald-Mail Articles