The Plan­ets

Sky at Night Magazine - - CONTENTS -

SATURN

BEST TIME TO SEE: 15 June, 01:00 BST (00:00 UT) ALTI­TUDE: 15º LO­CA­TION: Ophi­uchus DI­REC­TION: South FEA­TURES: Rings, at­mo­spheric band­ing, oc­ca­sional white spots, moons EQUIP­MENT: 6-inch or larger scope

Saturn reaches op­po­si­tion on 15 June, a time that finds the planet in the op­po­site lo­ca­tion to the Sun in the sky. This also cre­ates a sit­u­a­tion where the dis­tance be­tween Earth and Saturn is min­imised for the cur­rent pe­riod of vis­i­bil­ity, bring­ing the planet to a po­si­tion where it ap­pears slightly larger and brighter than nor­mal.

Be­ing op­po­site the Sun in the sky dur­ing the month of June isn’t par­tic­u­larly

favourable for mid-north­ern lat­i­tudes be­cause this is the time of year when the Sun is at its high­est dur­ing the day. Con­se­quently, Saturn is very low in the night sky and from the cen­tre of the UK it barely scrapes an alti­tude of 15º even when at its high­est, due south.

Any changes to the ap­pear­ance of Saturn at op­po­si­tion tend to be rel­a­tively sub­tle ex­cept, that is, for the rings. These ap­pear to brighten quite no­tice­ably around the op­po­si­tion date thanks to what’s known as the Seel­iger ef­fect. At op­po­si­tion we get to see the ring par­ti­cles il­lu­mi­nated head on with their shad­ows hid­den be­hind each par­ti­cle’s face. The net ef­fect is that the rings brighten for sev­eral days around the op­po­si­tion date.

At op­po­si­tion the planet will have a mag­ni­tude of 0.0, mak­ing it a rel­a­tively easy naked-eye ob­ject to find as it sits close to the eastern leg of the con­stel­la­tion of Ophi­uchus, the Ser­pent Bearer. If you’re still not sure which ob­ject in the sky is Saturn, look due south around 01:00 BST (00:00 UT) on 10 June, where the bright full Moon will be ob­vi­ous. Saturn will be 2º be­low the Moon’s south­ern edge at this time.

MER­CURY

BEST TIME TO SEE: 30 June, 22:10 BST (21:10 UT) ALTI­TUDE: 2º (low) LO­CA­TION: Gemini DI­REC­TION: North­west Mer­cury be­gins the month as a morn­ing ob­ject that barely gets above the east-north­east hori­zon be­fore sun­rise. How­ever, for the first 10 or so morn­ings it will be rel­a­tively bright, and if you have a good flat hori­zon from the north­east through to the east-north­east you may catch a glimpse of it. On 1 June it shines at mag. –0.3, while on 10 June it will have bright­ened to mag. –1.0. Su­pe­rior con­junc­tion oc­curs on the 21st, af­ter which Mer­cury reap­pears in the evening sky. At the end of the month look for it 20-30 min­utes af­ter sun­set, close to the north­west hori­zon, where it will be shin­ing at mag. –1.1.

VENUS

BEST TIME TO SEE: 20 & 21 June, from 04:00 BST (03:00 UT) ALTI­TUDE: 10º (low) LO­CA­TION: Aries DI­REC­TION: East Venus is at great­est west­ern elon­ga­tion on 3 June, when it will ap­pear sep­a­rated from the Sun by 46º in the morn­ing sky. It should be show­ing a phase of 50% lit and ap­pear 23 arc­sec­onds across on this date, but vis­ually the half phase may ap­pear a few days later due to the Schröter ef­fect. On the 3rd, the planet is mag. –4.3 and just 1.7º from dim Uranus, but the bright morn­ing twi­light will make this a dif­fi­cult con­junc­tion to see. As the month pro­gresses, Venus’s po­si­tion im­proves due to the morn­ing eclip­tic form­ing a steeper an­gle with the eastern hori­zon around sun­rise. We’ve listed the best time to lo­cate Venus as the morn­ings around the June sol­stice be­cause there will be a lovely wan­ing cres­cent Moon nearby on these dates. Venus ap­pears as an 18-arc­sec­ond di­am­e­ter, 62%-lit gib­bous disc at the end of the month.

JUPITER

BEST TIME TO SEE: 1 June, 22:45 BST (21:45 UT) ALTI­TUDE: 30º LO­CA­TION: Virgo DI­REC­TION: South-south­west Jupiter is no longer able to cul­mi­nate (reach its high­est point in the sky due south) in dark­ness. In­stead it ap­pears west of the merid­ian as dark­ness falls. A 74%-lit waxing gib­bous Moon pays Jupiter a close call on the night of 3 June and into the fol­low­ing morn­ing. Min­i­mum sep­a­ra­tion oc­curs around 02:20 BST (01:20 UT) when both ob­jects will ap­pear just 1.4º apart, cen­tre-to­cen­tre. The Moon pays Jupiter a sec­ond call on the night of 30 June, but this time the first quar­ter Moon will ap­pear around 5º away as mid­night ap­proaches and they are about to set. Jupiter dims slightly through­out the course of the month, from mag. –2.2 on the 1st to –2.0 by month end. Its ap­par­ent size also de­creases from 41 arc­sec­onds to 37 arc­sec­onds in this pe­riod.

NEP­TUNE

BEST TIME TO SEE: 30 June, 01:22 BST (00:22 UT) ALTI­TUDE: 9º (low) LO­CA­TION: Aquarius DI­REC­TION: East-south­east Dim and dis­tant Nep­tune is slowly crawl­ing away from the Sun and into the morn­ing sky. How­ever, at this time of year true dark­ness is in short sup­ply and this hin­ders the vis­i­bil­ity of this mag. +7.9 planet. If you do want to try, it can be found low in the east-south­east around 01:20 BST (00:20 UT) at the end of the month. On 30 June it ap­pears 15 ar­cmin­utes east of mag. +6.2 star 81 Aquarii. NOT VIS­I­BLE THIS MONTH Mars and Uranus

Saturn, ever the slow mover, re­mains close to Ophi­uchus’s eastern leg in June

A low alti­tude Saturn above Mars and Antares in 2016 Saturn

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