Astro Bob: June celestial highlights for night-sky lovers
A handy summary of the month's finest, naked-eye sky sights and events.
Welcome to June! Let's start the month with a calendar of bright sky events easily visible with the naked eye or binoculars.
If you're into planets and don't mind getting up early, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will gather in a rare, dawn alignment centered on June 24 and lasting about a week.
Late June through early July is also the best time to look for noctilucent or “night-shining” clouds. They appear as wispy, blue-tinted streaks and ripples in the lower third of the northern sky starting about 45 minutes after sunset and lingering until the first stars show.
Composed of meteor dust, noctilucent clouds hover about 50 miles high and catch sunlight long after lower clouds go dark. Dark skies aren’t necessary to view them, just a wide-open view to the north.
*Note: When “a.m.” follows the date, it refers to an event visible in the morning sky after midnight. All times are Central Daylight Time (CDT). Add one hour for EDT; subtract one hour for MDT and two hours for PDT.
June 1 – See a delicate crescent moon low in the northwestern sky at dusk.
June 2 – Moon appears just 3° below Pollux (left) and Castor, the brightest stars in Gemini the Twins.
June 5 – Waxing crescent moon shines 4.5° above Regulus, brightest star in Leo the Lion.
June 7 – First Quarter Moon
June 12 – Second magnitude star Delta Scorpii in Scorpius almost touches the lower right edge of the waxing gibbous moon during evening twilight. Use binoculars.
June 14 – Full Strawberry Moon
June 14 - 30 – Watch for noctilucent clouds starting 45 minutes to an hour after sunset.
June 18 a.m. – Waning gibbous moon swings 5.5° below Saturn at the start of morning twilight.
June 20 – Last Quarter Moon
June 21 – Summer solstice. Summer begins at 4:13 a.m. Longest day and shortest night of the year!
June 21 a.m. – Waning moon passes 4.5° to the lower right of Jupiter at the start of morning twilight low in the southeastern sky.
June 22 a.m. – Waning crescent moon slides 5° to the right of Mars low in the southeastern sky at the start of dawn.
June 23 - 30 – Chinese Tiangong space station makes evening passes for northern hemisphere observers. Go to Heavens Above and click the blue Tiangong link on the left side of the page for times and locator maps. During favorable passes, the station is as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.
June 24 a.m. – Grand planetary alignment. From a location where you can see the sky nearly down to the southeastern horizon, you’ll see the all five bright planets and the moon aligned in a long arc at dawn starting with Saturn in the south and proceeding east to Jupiter, Mars, the waning crescent moon, Venus and Mercury. Add the Earth to make it six planets! Uranus and Neptune also join the lineup, but you'll need binoculars or a telescope to view them.
All except Mercury are visible about 75 minutes before sunrise. Mercury appears very low 45 minutes to an hour before sunrise. Bring binoculars to make sure you spot it.
June 26 a.m. – Thin, waning moon snuggles near Venus, only 2° apart.
June 28 – New Moon