Get ready for the astronomy highlight of the year and a rare, almost once-in-a-lifetime event – the transit of Venus is a must-witness skywatching experience.
But that’s not all the excitment that the month of June holds! The longest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere) is here too, plus… and don’t forget all the other cool things you can see from the Moon, to some planets, to stars and even the clouds in the sky.
So, read on for more on the awesome sights to enjoy in June 2012 if you cast your attention updwards!
Transit of Venus
Are you ready for the astronomy highlight of 2012!? On the 5th and 6th of June, something wonderful and relatively rare happens. Find out more about the transit of Venus and how to view it safely.
*Updated 6th June 2012 – The last transit of Venus till 2117
The Phases of the Moon
If the Moon is close to being full, the light reflecting from it really does drown-out the light from the fainer objects in the sky. So if it’s stars and planets you want to look at, best to pick a night close to the New Moon.
Full Moon: 4th June, 11:12
Last Quarter: 11th June, 10:41
New Moon: 19th June, 15:02
First Quarter: 27th June, 03:30
(times above are in Universal Time, UT)
The longest day of the year is on June 20 2012. The precise moment of the summer solstice is at 23:09 UT this year when the Sun reaches its apparent northernmost extreme from the celestial equator, as a result of the Earth’s tilted axis.
The National Maritime Museum in the UK has a nice article explaining the ins and outs of solstices and equinoxes.
Keep an eye out for Mercury which is visible to the west just after sunset for the first week or so of June.
Venus is now heading towards partially and very briefly interesecting our view of the Sun and come June 5th it’ll be in transit across the star at the centre of our solar system. For the rest of the month, it’ll become difficult to see as it’ll be up during daytime when sunlight drowns out any visible reflected light from the planet’s surface.
Gaze upwards before dawn and you might see Jupiter. The gas giant can be spotted just before sunrise to the east.
It’s getting harder to spot with the increasingly lighter nights, but if you can find the constellation of Leo this month before it sets, you’ll be able to find Mars.
Saturn remains in the constellation of Virgo, close to the bright star Spica, but it too will be low to the south-western horizon by darkness.
If you’re looking to find the outermost planets Uranus and Neptune you’ll need the help of a telescope as these aren’t visible to the naked eye.
Find Your Way Around The Night Sky
Here are some images of what the sky will look like around Midnight on 19th June 2012… the night of a New Moon and the best opportunity to see stars without any moonlight to drown out the view (click to embiggen the images)!
Looking East around midnight on 19th June 2012
Looking South around midnight on 19th June 2012
Looking West around midnight on 19th June 2012
Looking North around midnight on 19th June 2012
This June, keep your eyes peeled for the constellations of Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila. Together they form an astersim called the ‘Summer Triangle’. The brightest stars in each of these constellations (Vega, Deneb and Altair) form a giant triangle across the Milky Way which is a good indicator that it’s summer-time as they are visible from spring through to autumn (hence the quirky moniker assigned to it by astronomers)!
The image below traces out the Summer Triangle in the night sky:
Lyra is the harp once played by the great mythological Greek musician, Orpheus. The bright star Vega is the fifth brightest star in the sky and lies some 25 light years away from us.
Deneb by contrast is in the region of 1500 light years from us and is a blue-white supergiant – probably around 20 times as massive as our Sun. The star is the brightest in the constellation of Cygnus: depicted as a swan gracefully gliding through the Milky Way.
Aquila the eagle was the carrier of Zeus’s thunderbolts. Altair is its brightest star and about 17 light years away and the 12th brightest in our sky.
With each of the 3 stars forming the Summer Triangle within the top 20 brightest stars in the sky, this is a great and relatively easy asterism to spot.
Enjoy your skywatching this month!