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Last modified: Monday, June 2, 2008

STAR TRAK

Jupiter rules the night during June

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 2, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Jupiter, the giant of the solar system, will rise earlier each evening and be visible most of the night as it crosses the southern sky during June. Usually this is the best chance to see the huge planet, especially with a telescope. Unfortunately it is quite low in the sky this time around, still easy to find but with more of the murky turbulence of Earth's atmosphere for its light to penetrate. Because of this, the best viewing opportunities will be when Jupiter is highest in the south.

Jupiter

Photo by: NASA

Jupiter

Print-Quality Photo

As June begins, Jupiter will rise around 11 p.m. local time. By month's end it will appear just a half hour after sunset, coming into view low in the east-southeast as evening twilight starts to fade.

Jupiter's four largest moons -- Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto -- will be visible in binoculars or any telescope, changing positions from night to night as they patrol east and west of the planet in their orbits. Occasionally one or more of them will disappear as they pass in front of Jupiter or behind it.

Yellow Saturn will spend June in the close company of the bright white star Regulus in the constellation Leo the Lion. Look for the pair in the western sky as evening twilight fades.

Like a jealous partner discovering a tryst, Mars will rapidly close in on Saturn and Regulus from the right (north) as June passes. By month's end, the three bright objects will be a cluster with orange Mars standing close by Regulus as Saturn slowly withdraws to the left (south). This will be a fine opportunity to compare their different colors, especially with binoculars. Don't wait too long to look, for the trio will set soon after the end of twilight.

Mercury will pass between Earth and the sun during June, reappearing in the morning sky near month's end.

Venus will continue its journey around the far side of the sun, reaching a point exactly opposite Earth on June 9 but out of sight in the solar glare.

Viewing information and graphics for the planets are available at http://www.space.com/spacewatch.

Mars landing

The Phoenix spacecraft landed successfully in the north polar region of Mars on May 25 and began sending back images from the surface. More information and the latest images from Mars can be found at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/main/index.html.

Meteor shower

The Bootid meteor shower is normally not noteworthy, but this year may be different. Between 6:30 p.m. EDT (22:30 Universal Time) on June 26 and 5 a.m. EDT on June 27, Earth will pass through part of the debris trail of the comet that spawned the meteor shower. Meteors will appear to be coming from a point in the constellation Bootes (pronounced bo-OH-teez) the Herdsman, which is visible in the northern sky nearly all night and contains the bright orange star Arcturus. The moon will rise around midnight and its light will wash out the fainter meteors, so viewing may be best before moonrise. The International Meteor Organization provides more information at http://www.imo.net.

Solstice

The sun will reach the June solstice on June 20 at 7:59 p.m. EDT (23:59 Universal Time), marking the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. For the next six months in the Northern Hemisphere the days will be getting shorter.

This will be the first time since 1896 that the June solstice has been as early as June 20 in Universal Time, which is the time on the prime meridian that passes through Greenwich, England, marking zero degrees of longitude.

"Solstice" is derived from two Latin words that mean "cause the sun to stand still." This is because the summer sun climbs to a higher point in the southern sky each day until the solstice. On the day of the solstice it appears to arrive at about the same maximum height above the horizon as the day before, and in the days afterward its maximum point is lower, dropping back toward its lowest point at the winter solstice. In this sense, the sun "stands still" at the peak of its journey across the summer sky before it starts downward again toward the southern horizon.

Moon phases

The moon will be new on June 3, at first quarter on June 10, full on June 18 and at last quarter on June 26.