June kicks off sum­mer sky ob­serv­ing sched­ule

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - NEWS - David Cater

I have been rained out so many week­ends I only get to ob­serve the night sky rarely. Dur­ing the week, it is of­ten clear but I am in Musko­gee, Okla., for much of the week. Then, the week­ends are rained out. Poor weather for ob­serv­ing is prob­a­bly the big­gest ob­sta­cle to ama­teur as­tron­omy. Ama­teur as­tron­omy, what­ever other virtues one may ex­pe­ri­ence while pur­su­ing it, teaches one pa­tience.

June re­ally starts the sum­mer ob­serv­ing sched­ule. First off, the sum­mer sol­stice oc­curs on June 21. The Sun will reach the high­est above the hori­zon on that date. Many an­cient peo­ples rec­og­nized this time of year and could dis­cern it with the placement of var­i­ous mark­ers or de­vices they de­vel­oped to let them know when this date oc­curred. Sum­mer truly be­gins on that date in the north­ern hemi­sphere.

June is the time to get out un­der very dark skies and look for the Milky Way late in the evening. As sum­mer comes on, it will be eas­ier to see, pre­sent­ing it­self around 9 p.m. and so very easy to see. The Milky Way al­ways re­pays scan­ning with binoc­u­lars. Lit­er­ally hun­dreds of thou­sands of stars can be vis­i­ble on a dark night at a suf­fi­ciently dark site. If you are go­ing to such a place this sum­mer, don’t miss this re­mark­able starry span — the di­rec­tion of the cen­ter of our home gal­axy.

Jupiter will con­tinue to shine brightly all sum­mer evening. It will be the bright­est ob­ject nearly di­rectly south in the night sky and should be easy to find. Here is an­other good binoc­u­lar ob­ject. Brace the binoc­u­lars against some­thing steady (a car roof has al­ways served me well), breathe slowly and look for tiny pin­pricks of life on ei­ther side of the planet it­self. Th­ese tiny bits of light are one or more of the moons of Jupiter that Galileo dis­cov­ered about 1610. Your binoc­u­lars are far bet­ter op­ti­cal in­stru­ments than Galileo had so you just might see what he saw.

The won­der­ful ringed planet Saturn is at op­po­si­tion in June. What does a planet be­ing at op­po­si­tion mean? It means, in our night sky, the Sun and Saturn are at ex­actly op­po­site hori­zons from one an­other. Maybe a more help­ful way to think of this is to re­al­ize that the Sun will set in the west and just op­po­site this sun­set, Saturn will rise above the eastern hori­zon. For Saturn ob­servers, and I cer­tainly count my­self among this group, Saturn will be­come a bright evening planet, a lot eas­ier to ob­serve than when one must get up at 2 a.m. to see it! Just at op­po­si­tion, Saturn will shine at its bright­est all year. The rings will span 41.7 sec­onds of arc and the rings will be in­clined 27 de­grees to our line of sight. Tech­ni­cal specs aside, this means that Saturn will be ideal for the ama­teur ob­server. I know I will be try­ing to get a good pic­ture of it with new plan­e­tary imag­ing equip­ment I have. I am al­ways fas­ci­nated by its vis­ual ap­pear­ance—I can’t get enough of view­ing it.

We draw closer each day to the to­tal eclipse of the Sun on Aug. 21, 2017. While only a par­tial eclipse will ap­pear to ob­servers in Arkansas, this is the time to get ‘eclipse glasses’ from many ven­dors who are sell­ing them now. You can get five pair for about $13. D0 not look at this eclipse without wear­ing safety glasses! You can do per­ma­nent dam­age to your eyes just look­ing at the par­tially eclipsed Sun for just a few sec­onds.

— Dr. David Cater is a for­mer fac­ulty mem­ber of JBU. Email him at star­bug352@ya­hoo.com. The opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor.

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