Exploring Our Night Sky - June 2020

Image courtesy of Steven Marshall Photography www.smarshall.photography

June is the month of the Summer Solstice and the Longest Day, so our night sky never quite gets dark. This may not be great for spotting faint stars, the warmer nights mean that some pleasant time can be had outside to spot the Summer Constellations. The largest of these is Hercules, our fifth largest constellation and home to one of our brightest globular star clusters. Also, if you’re up late, you’ll be treated to the sight of Jupiter and Saturn rising in the south-east and Venus rising in the north-east.

The Constellations

As it never quite gets dark, this month’s star charts are for midnight, although you can see the constellations emerging from about 11:00 pm onwards. Unlike in the winter and spring months, the southern night sky of summer is not filled with large and bright constellations. Instead, it is filled with numerous smaller and fainter constellations and you can use four bright stars that are easy to find to navigate your way around them. These stars are Arcturus, Antares, Vega and Spica.

Arcturus is probably the easiest of the four stars to find as it is the brightest star in the night sky just now. It is a red giant star that has a noticeable golden colour and you will find it high up in the south-west along with the other stars that make up the constellation of Boötes (the Herdsman). If you look carefully, you should be able to pick out 5 other stars above Arcturus that join with it to make the shape of an ice-cream cone that represents the torso of the Herdsman. A long way below Arcturus, low down on the western horizon, you will find Spica, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo (the Maiden), which will have moved off to the west after filling the lower part of last month’s southern sky.

If you look really low down on the southern horizon, you will see Antares, another red giant star. It’s not as bright as Arcturus, but it does have more of a red glow and is named by some as the “Rival of Mars” because of this. It is the fifteenth brightest star in the night sky and the brightest star in the constellation of Scorpius (the Scorpion). Antares marks the centre of the scorpion, with its claws extending towards the rather faint constellation of Libra, to its west. The scorpion has a curved tail, but most of this will be low in the sky or indeed, below the horizon.

Above Scorpius, you will find Ophiuchus (the Serpent-Bearer). It is a large constellation, which straddles the celestial equator and it is commonly depicted as a man grasping a snake. This snake is represented by the constellation of Serpens (the Serpent), which is immediately to the west of Ophiuchus. Above Serpens is the semi-circular constellation of Corona Borealis (the Northern Crown), which is made up of 4 bright stars that represent the crown of Ariadne, daughter of King Minos in Greek mythology, who helped the hero Theseus kill the Minotaur and find his way out of the labyrinth in which the creature lived.

High up in the south-eastern sky, you will find Vega, the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra (the Lyre) and the fifth brightest star in our night sky. Vega acts as the guide star to the Keystone, a rectangle of four stars in the constellation Hercules, the fifth largest constellations in our night sky. To find the Keystone, trace a straight line from Vega and towards Arcturus. You will find it about one third of the way along this line. The Keystone represents the body of Hercules and is home to M13, the Great Global Cluster, a bee-like swarm of a third of a million red giant stars. It is one of the brightest globular clusters and although it is visible to the naked eye, it will be easier to see when using binoculars or a small telescope.

The Moon

At the start of the month, the moon is just after its first quarter, so we will have a half Moon and then, on 5 June, we have this month’s full Moon. In Colonial America, this full moon was referred to as the Strawberry Moon because this was when these little red berries ripened. Europeans have dubbed it the rose moon, while other cultures named it the hot moon because it occurred at the beginning of the summer heat.

Also on 5 June, we have a penumbral eclipse when the Moon passes through the outskirts of the Earth's shadow, resulting in only a dusky decrease in the Full Moon's brightness. The eclipse will finish at moonrise in the UK so we’ll find it difficult to see and will be better seen by people in Asia, Africa and Australia. The last quarter Moon (a half moon) is on 13 June and there is a new Moon (no moon) on 21 June. So, if it’s clear on the 22 June, you will see a very thin crescent moon in the north-west about an hour after sunset.

The Planets

For the first part of June, you will be able to see Mercury low down on the north-western horizon before it fades quickly and sinks into the twilight glow from the middle of the month. Jupiter and Saturn will rise in the south-east at around 11 pm and will be easiest to see from about midnight with Jupiter being the brightest of the two. Then, two hours later, you should be able to see Mars as it rises in the south-east as well. On the mornings of 13 and 14 June, you can see Neptune just above Mars, while Uranus will be low down on the eastern horizon at that time.

Venus ceased to be the ‘Evening Star’ when it disappeared from our night-sky at the end of last month. However, from about 19 June, it makes its reappearance as the ‘Morning Star’ when it rises in the north-east about half an hour before sunrise at around 4 am. If look for it that morning, you will find it to the right of the thinnest of crescent moons. By the end of the month, Venus will be rising as early as 3 am.

Meteor Showers

June is a quiet month meteor showers as most of them occur when it is daylight. In reality, we need to wait until the Perseid Meteor Shower in August for our next good show. It will peak on the night of 11-12 August and will be marred a little by the light from a last quarter moon. Nonetheless, we should be able to see the brighter Perseids as they will most likely overcome the moonlit glare.

Summer Solstice

This year, the Summer Solstice will occur on 20 June at 21:43 GMT (22:43 BST) and is the exact moment when the northern hemisphere is tilted most towards the Sun. However, many people refer to the Summer Solstice as the Longest Day of the year, when the number of hours of daylight are at their maximum and the number of hours of night are at their minimum. On 20 June this year, our sunrise will be 4:30 am and our sunset will be 10:19 pm, giving us 17 hours and 49 minutes of daylight. On June 19, our hours of daylight will be 7 seconds less and on June 20 they will be 1 second less.

This monthly summary first appeared on https://www.rockpoolhouse.co.uk/june-stargazing.html.

It was written by Steven Marshall, owner of Steven Marshall Photography and Rockpool House Holiday Apartment. He offers landscape and night photography tuition to visitors on the Peninsulas and has various photographic prints, calendars, cards and other merchandise for sale at his studio at Rockpool House. He also enjoys taking his guests at Rockpool House on a tour of the night sky.

If you’d like to share what you love about the area on our website, please feel free to get in touch by email at web@westhighlandpeninsulas.com.

Posted on 8th June 2020, by Steven Marshall.

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