The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Jim Miller
For The Sentinel 

What's in the Sky

 

June is here, with the start of summer and our longest days. At the summer solstice on June 21, sunrise will be at 5:15am, and sunset will occur at 9 p.m. That's 15 hours and 45 minutes of daylight. Darkness will come late this month, but temperatures will be comfortable. Enjoy the long days, and also check out the stars at night!

Venus continues to shine bright after sunset in June, low in the west. The "evening star" sets between 11 p.m. and midnight, so is best to see right after sunset. Look for the crescent Moon right below Venus on June 15, or to the left of Venus on the 16th for a nice sight.

The king of the southern sky continues to be Jupiter. Our largest planet shines bright the whole month, and will be located higher in the evening sky than it was in May, making it easier to see. On June 7, three of its four large moons will be near each other, making a little cluster to the left of Jupiter. The moons are visible with binoculars.

These two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, have an important place in scientific history. In the early 1600s, Galileo trained the newly-invented telescope toward the heavens. He discovered that Venus has phases, similar to our Moon, and that Jupiter had four little moons circling the planet. At a time when it was believed that Earth was the center of the universe, Galileo's discoveries were revolutionary. The phases of Venus meant that it was between Earth and the Sun, and that Venus orbited the Sun. The movement of Jupiter's moons from night to night meant they orbited that planet.

Since Venus is between Earth and the Sun, it never strays very far from the Sun in our sky. Venus is either low in the west after sunset, or low in the east before sunrise. The same is true of the other planet between Earth and the Sun, Mercury. Our innermost planet is elusive, despite the fact that it is brighter than most stars in the sky. It never gets very high in the sky, and is always harder to see because the sky is never real dark when it is visible. Because of this, many people have never viewed Mercury. Well, June is a good time to give it a try. In late June, it will be 10-12 degrees above the western horizon at sunset. 10 degrees is about the width of your fist, when your arm is extended. Look for a bright "star", below and to the right of Venus. Binoculars will help, and of course you'll need a clear view of the western sky. While not as bright as Venus, it will be easily visible. Give it a try!

Saturn makes its closest approach to Earth on June 27. On that date, it rises at sunset, and is in the sky all night. It will be very close to the full Moon that night. The ringed planet will be very nice to see in July, look for more in my July column. Even though it is closest on June 27, it will not be high in the sky until quite late. In July, it will still be near its closest approach to Earth, and will be high in the sky earlier in the evening.

Earth's Moon will be full on June 27 as mentioned, and new Moon will be on the 13th of the month. On June 20, we'll have a first-quarter Moon, an excellent time to see craters and mountains on our natural satellite. Point a pair of binoculars at the Moon, and you'll be amazed at what you can see.

The stars of summer are rising in the east during June. Cygnus the swan, also known as the Northern Cross, will be climbing in the eastern sky. The swan lies in the summer Milky Way, our home galaxy. Just above Cygnus, you will see a very bright star, Vega, located in the small constellation Lyra. Vega is one of the brightest stars in the night sky. In a couple of months, Lyra and Cygnus will be overhead in the night sky.

Start June off with a visit to Hood River's Gorge STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Fair, 5 to 7pm on June 1, in downtown Hood River. The Rose City Astronomers will have a stargazing booth, and there will be lots of interesting technology to see.

Enjoy the skies of June!

 

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