What’s Up in SW Florida’s June Skies

Predawn Eastern Horizon: the Venus Show! Look ENE before dawn (say 5:45 am) any morning this month: Venus is the crazy-bright yellowish-looking thing that glows with a steady light and doesn’t twinkle like a star. A bit above Venus you may notice the “tiny dipper shape” of the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, a star cluster in the constellation of Taurus.

June 10: Jovian Opposition – On Monday, June 10, Jupiter, which is right above the curling “tail” of Scorpius (the scorpion) all month long, will be at “opposition,” which means exactly opposite the sun in Earth’s sky – rising ENE at sunset, being highest above our southern horizon around solar midnight (1 am daylight time) and remaining visible all night long, to set WNW near dawn. The planet’s disk will appear at its brightest and with its largest (46 arcsecond) diameter of this year. Around opposition, Jupiter and its four largest satellites (the Galilean moons of Jupiter: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) often eclipse and occult one another, and those moons cast round black shadows on the planet, which can be easily observed with a good-sized telescope (8 – 10″ primary mirror). Saturn is farther East all month long, rising about 9 pm and shining brightly to Jupiter’s eastward all night as the two move from the eastern sky to the western sky. Scorpius and Sagittarius are the guardian constellations of the center of our Milky Way galaxy, so if you have a chance to get to a really dark-sky location, the brightest part of the Milky Way will be high in your southern skies around the middle of the night!

June 16-20 9 pm WNW: Mercury-Mars Ballet – Gaze WNW every evening about 9 pm during this week, if it’s clear. Low (about 10 degrees above the horizon) in the WNW you will see dramatic evidence of how fast Mercury moves in its orbit: it will start out to the lower right of orangey-looking Mars, pass the planet Mars on the 18th, and continue toward the upper left. The days immediately before and after this conjunction of Mercury and Mars will also be beautiful examples, but the separations seen from Earth are truly small during this time window, so the color difference between the two planets should be especially noticeable. The bright stars Castor and Pollux will be to the upper right of Mars at the start of this time. Castor is more northerly, so will be farther to the right, while Pollux will appear to be more “above Mars.” Yet as you watch from night to night, you will see Mars also moving (more slowly) in its orbit, until it draws level with Castor and Pollux by June 27-28, so that Mars, Pollux and Castor will lie in a row above the WNW horizon at 9 pm, with Mercury fainter and slightly higher to the left, having “turned the corner” in its orbit of the Sun, now beginning to come between us and the Sun on this leg of its orbit.

June 21: Solstice – This year’s “summer solstice” occurs on June 21st at 11:54 a.m. EDT. Astronomically speaking, that’s when summer officially begins in the Northern Hemisphere (and winter in the Southern Hemisphere).

Moon Phases: June 2019

3 – New Moon 10 – First Quarter 17 – Full Moon 25 – Last Quarter

In the Planetarium, we have switched to a summer schedule, with two daily shows: noon and 2:30 pm. Our daily noon offering is “Life: A Cosmic Story,” and our 2:30 pm show is “Distant Worlds, Alien Life?”  Also, the last weekend in June and first weekend in July, Fri/Sat/Sun evening LASER LIGHT SHOWS are back!

— Heather Preston, Planetarium Director