June is finally upon us, and the summer is officially in full swing. The nights may be brighter for longer, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some brilliant stargazing to be had. If anything, summer is a wonderful time to go stargazing, as you don’t really need to worry too much about having to wrap up warm to go and view the stars, but we still recommend a good coat. So why not hold a stargazing themed BBQ one of these beautiful nights, and sit out with friends and family into the wee small hours of the morning to catch some wonderful sights.
On 2 June we will be privy to a Full Moon. This particular Full Moon has several names. It is primarily known was the Full Strawberry Moon, and this name came from one of the biggest Native American tribes, the Algonquians. The Full Strawberry Moon signalled the time when strawberries were at their ripest and needed to be gathered. Naturally this full moon has many other names and in Colonial America it was known as the Full Rose Moon. In Celtic lore, this moon was known as the Moon of Horses and was most likely to represent the Goddesses that were associated with the horse, Epona and Rhiannon. Another common name for this full moon is the Full Honey Moon, as it is said that the bee hives are to be filled with honey around this time of year. It will also have a nice honey coloured hew to it. No matter what you would like to call this moon, it will be clearly visible in the sky on 2nd June.
If you like meteor showers then look forward to 7 June as there will be a meteor shower at its peak. This won’t be your ordinary, run of the mill type of meteor shower, this will be a daytime meteor shower, which makes it all the more interesting (but harder to see). The Arietid Meteor Shower is one of the most intense daytime meteor showers there is. It appears to radiate from the constellations of Aries and Perseus and can produce up to 60 meteors an hour. The parentage of this meteor shower remains unknown however astronomers suspect that it comes from the famous sungrazing asteroid 1556 Icarus, or Comet Machholz (96P/Machholz). The Arietids stream from a radiant point around the constellation of Aries, which lies roughly 30 degrees from the Sun in June. The Arietids Meteoroids will hit the Earth’s atmosphere at a velocity of around 39km/s. This meteor shower peaks around 7/8 June, but it should last until early July. Your best hope of seeing the meteors is by going out in the early morning before sunrise and look north east low in the sky towards Aries and Perseus, but you will need a lot of luck to spot any meteors against the brightening sky.
On 16 June there will be a New Moon. This means that the Moon will be between the Earth and the Sun, with the nearside in darkness so it will not be visible in the night sky. A New Moon presents an excellent opportunity for stargazers. Why? As the Moon will not be visible, there will be no moonlight to hinder the viewing of the stars and so you will be able to see more stars and celestial objects. Here are some of the things we recommend you to look out for.
Antares is the sixteenth brightest star in the night sky and is very easy to spot in the summer, especially this year as Saturn will be close by it in the sky. It is the brightest star in the constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion, and its scientific name is Alpha Scorpii. It is classified as an M1 supergiant star and has a radius in excess of three Astronomical Units (au). One au is equal to the Earth’s average distance away from the Sun, so you can only imagine how massive Antares must be.
Located roughly a degree from Antares, Messier 4 (or NGC 6121) is a globular cluster. First discovered in 1746 by Philippe Loys de Chéseaux, and later catalogued by Charles Messier, M4 is very prominent in the night sky and on dark nights can be seen with a small telescope. M4 is one of the closest known globular clusters, just how close is unclear; distances from the Sun of 5500 light years and 7200 light years are quoted. It is home to some of the oldest known white dwarfs, at 11-12 billion years old these ancient stellar remnants are left-overs from the early days of the Universe.
If you’re in the mood to stay up late, try looking for the Wild Duck Cluster. No this is not a late night special at a luxury restaurant, it is actually known as Messier 11 and is a fantastic open star cluster. Located in the constellation of Scutum the Shield, just south of the constellation of Aquila the Eagle, the Wild Duck Cluster is an open star cluster that lies around 5500 light years away. It was first discovered by Gottfried Kirch, the first ever Prussian Astronomer Royal in Berlin, in 1681. You will need a good telescope to see this brilliant cluster.
On 21st June we will have the June Solstice. It is an iconic day for many as it indicates the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere and the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the southern hemisphere. The Earth’s north pole will be tilted towards the Sun and will have reached its northern-most point in the sky. It will also be directly over the Tropic of Cancer at 23.44 degrees north latitude. It will be the longest day of the year with an early dawn and a late sunset. It’s a time to celebrate, so if the weather holds out, have another stargazing themed BBQ!
At the end of this month we will be able to see “Close encounters of the Planet Kind,” in the western skies. On 30 June, riding along into 1 July, we will see the closest Venus-Jupiter conjunction that we will see until August 2016. If you look to the west in the late evening, early night time of 30 June you will see Venus and Jupiter almost atop each other in the night sky. Jupiter’s orbital path is a whopping seven times longer than that of Venus’ orbital path, so throughout June it will be moving along at a snail’s pace across the sky. Venus on the other hand will practically hurtle across the night sky, until it catches up with Jupiter (the conjunction) and then over takes it. The ultimate in conjunctions is when the two planets in question transits in front of each other, and naturally this is a very rare occurrence. The last time such a conjunction occurred, the year was 1818 and we don’t expect to see another quite like it until 2065.
So there is a lot to be seen in the sky this June. From bright stars and globular clusters to planet conjunctions and meteor showers, the June sky is going to be exciting and tantalising. Celebrate the summer with your loved ones and take them on your own tour of the sky with this handy guide.
(Article by Heather Taylor, Education Support Officer)