Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, June 6, 2014.
Having passed its third quarter last
Thursday, June 19, the Moon is already in the waning crescent phase, slimming down and
rising ever later until it goes through new Moon next Friday the 27th. Given a
clear eastern horizon, our last look at it will be the morning of
Wednesday the 25th. The morning of Monday the 23rd finds the Moon
approaching Venus, while on the
next morning the two will make a classic combination with the Moon
just south of the bright planet. With the pair
rising shortly after 3:30 AM Daylight Time as dawn begins to light
the sky, there is but a short interval in which to see them before
late twilight takes them away. If you catch the sight just right
you might also see the wispy Pleiades of Taurus
just above the pair.
setting in western evening twilight and pretty much out of the
scene, and Venus not rising until dawn lights the east, the
planetary sky pretty much belongs to
Mars and Saturn, the two occupying adjacent constellations of the Zodiac. Mars is in Virgo still to the northwest of Spica, while the ringed planet is in
Libra well to the east of Mars.
Going from west to east, Mars (the brightest thing up there),
Spica, Saturn, and then Antares
in Scorpius, more or less outline
the ecliptic, the apparent
path of the
Sun (though Antares is nearly five degrees south of it). With
Saturn transiting the meridian in
late twilight, as final darkness falls both planets are in the
western half of the sky. Mars then sets around 1:30 AM Daylight
Time, Saturn an hour and a half later.
All of which then brings us to the
Sun, which passes the Summer Solstice in classical Gemini (technically just over the
modern border in Taurus) at 5:51
AM CDT (6:51 EDT, 4:51 MDT, 3:51 PDT, 1051 hours Greenwich, or Universal, Time on
Saturday the 21st, marking the beginning of astronomical summer in
the northern hemisphere. At that moment, the Sun is as far north
as it can get (23.4 degrees north of the celestial equator), and rises as far to
the northeast and sets as far to the northwest as possible.
Saturday the 21st, the longest day of the year in the northern
hemisphere, follows the shortest night. Solar heating is
maximized in northern climes. Welcome to summer.
Below and a bit west of Mars find the rough box that makes Corvus, the Crow, whose top two
stars point easterly toward Spica. Below Saturn and Libra (to the
southwest of Antares) howls Lupus,
the Wolf. In the early evening, the Big Dipper starts to fall into the northwest, while
the Little Dipper climbs high