View of the south­ern sky: June

The Timaru Herald - - WORLD DIGEST - FREIDL HALE

This evening be­fore the rain clouds set in, I was lucky enough to get a brief view of Mars, as­ton­ish­ingly bright and orange in the not yet fully dark evening sky. Hours later now, the clouds are break­ing up and I am hopeful to see it again as it crosses the sky to the west.

Yes, we passed be­tween Mars and the Sun on May 22nd, but our clos­est ap­proach will not oc­cur un­til 9 days later, on the morn­ing of the 31st. So, weather per­mit­ting, it will be best ob­served dur­ing both nights, the 30thand 31st.

The di­am­e­ter of Earth is twice that of Mars, how­ever, un­for­tu­nately when Earth is at its clos­est ap­proach, we are in Mars’ day­time sky, so any­one ob­serv­ing the night sky on Mars will not have a closeup view of their big blue and white neigh­bour and its one large Moon.

How­ever, be re­as­sured that within a few days we will be reap­pear­ing in Mars’ pre-dawn sky as a bright Morn­ing ‘‘Star’’.

Sim­i­larly, Venus will be dis­ap­pear­ing from our west­ern morn­ing sky, and on the 7th will pass be­hind the Sun from Earth. It will then reap­pear on the other side of the Sun, as our bright Evening ‘‘Star’’ in the east.

Mean­while, dur­ing the week be­tween those two events, Saturn, the Moon, and Matariki are also in the cal­en­dar. On the 3rd we will pass be­tween Saturn and the Sun, our clos­est ap­proach to the ringed planet this year.

In­ter­est­ing to ob­serve Saturn brighten over the weeks as we ap­proach, and dim as we speed away, but if you have binoc­u­lars or a tele­scope it is a good time to get them out and try to see the rings.

The next morn­ing, the 4th, is marked as the he­li­a­cal ris­ing of the star clus­ter called Matariki by the Maori (aka Pleiades, The Seven Sis­ters, and Subaru (Japanese).

This means that Matariki has passed be­hind the Sun and for the first time will rise into our morn­ing sky suf­fi­ciently be­fore sun­rise that it can be glimpsed be­fore the light of the Sun over­whelmes its dim glow.

The pos­si­bil­ity of sight­ing Matariki in this al­ready dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stance de­pends of course on many fac­tors, in­clud­ing weather, air po­lu­tion, light po­lu­tion, look­ing in ex­actly the right place, the clar­ity of your vi­sion, etc. Then on the 5th the Moon will be new - the first New Moon af­ter the he­li­a­cal ris­ing of Matariki. The next day is cel­e­brated as Matariki, or the Maori New Year, and is the first day of the first month, Pipiri, of the Maori lu­nar cal­en­dar.

It is in­ter­est­ing to note that the an­cient Aztecs of Mex­ico and Cen­tral Amer­ica called the Pleiades Tian­quiztli which was their word for ’mar­ket­place’, and their year also be­gan af­ter the first sight­ing by their pri­ests of the he­li­a­cal ris­ing of Tian­quiztli.

The June Moon will be full be­fore mid­night on the 20th.

Win­ter sol­stice oc­curs the next day af­ter Full Moon. The Sun will reach its north­ern­most point over Earth, on the Tropic of Can­cer, and re­verse di­rec­tion head­ing south once again. Our hours of sun­light will slowly in­crease over the next 6 months.

Well, it is al­most 4am, and small fluffy white moon­lit clouds are mov­ing quickly and al­low­ing great views of Mars in a large tri­an­gle with Saturn and orange-tinged Antares, the star at the heart of Scor­pius.

Antares on its own is an in­ter­est­ing tar­get for your ob­serv­ing out­ings. In the fi­nal stages of its life, Antares is a red su­per­giant star, swollen to more than 800 times the size of our Sun. Put it in place of our Sun and it’s sur­face would lie some­where be­tween the or­bits of Mars and Jupiter.

All the in­ner plan­ets in­clud­ing Earth and Mars would be well in­side Antares.

The star will likely su­per­nova within some hun­dreds of thou­sands of years at which point it will shine as brightly as the Moon in our sky and be eas­ily vis­i­ble dur­ing the day.

Since Antares is lo­cated close to the path of the Moon in our sky, it will be an amaz­ing sight when their paths bring them close to­gether ev­ery win­ter month – amaz­ing and beau­ti­ful for any­one or any­thing that is still here to see it.

If you have any ques­tions, would like to re­ceive or share in­for­ma­tion, or just share a stargaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence or a thought about our place in space, please email me at night­[email protected]

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