View of the southern sky: June
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]