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Starwatch - June 2010

May 16, 2010


By Deane Morrison

What can beat watching the stars on a lazy June night?

Our first treat comes early, when Mars makes a close pass over the bright star Regulus in Leo, the lion. Looking to the west around 10 p.m. on the 6th and 7th, you’ll see the reddish planet less than half a degree above Regulus, anchor of the Sickle of stars forming Leo’s head.

Mars is now traveling eastward against the background of stars, heading toward Saturn, the bright light below Leo’s hindquarters. But the stars move eternally westward, thanks to Earth’s orbit of the sun. Like fish struggling in vain against a current, Mars and Saturn are being swept with them toward the west, where Venus, now a brilliant “evening star,” waits.

Venus is always lovely, but especially so on the 14th. If skies are clear, we’ll see a crescent moon hanging below the planet, forming a celestial semicolon. Venus has another fine moment on the 20th, when it glides just north of the Beehive star cluster.

Jupiter is well up at dawn, a bright beacon below the Circlet of Pisces, a round star grouping below the Great Square of Pegasus. The brilliant planet rises earlier every day and will start coming up before midnight by next month.

In mid-June the kite-shaped form of Bootes, the ploughman, sails high in the south after nightfall. At its base is Arcturus, a brilliant star whose orbit slices through the disk of our Milky Way galaxy. Most stars, including our sun, orbit within the disk.

June’s full moon arrives on the 26th at 6:30 a.m.—an hour after it sets in the west, so you’ll have to get up early to see it at its roundest. Every Algonquin tribe called this the strawberry moon, as this is the season when the small but delicious wild fruit ripens. In Europe, June’s full moon was called the rose moon.

Summer arrives officially with the solstice at 6:28 a.m. on the 21st. At that moment the sun will reach a point directly over the Tropic of Cancer.

The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Morris, Duluth, and Twin Cities campuses. For more information and viewing schedules, see:
Morris, UMN 16-inch telescope schedule: cda.mrs.umn.edu/~kearnsk/Telescope/PubObs.htm

Duluth, Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium: www.d.umn.edu/planet

Twin Cities, Department of Astronomy (during fall and spring semesters): www.astro.umn.edu/outreach/pubnight

5/20/10 Contact: Deane Morrison, University Relations, (612) 624-2346, morri029@umn.edu

Find U of M astronomers and links to the world of astronomy at http://www.astro.umn.edu.

Tags: College of Science and Engineering

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