Last modified: Monday, June 2, 2003
STAR TRAK/June 2003
The summer of Mars begins
Earth is finally catching up with Mars in our smaller, faster orbit, and the red planet will quickly become larger and brighter in our sky as a result. But this time around is special. By late August, Mars will be much closer to Earth than it has been in 15 years, and slightly closer than it has been in 50,000 years. You won't get a better view of it in your lifetime.
Mars will rise in the east-southeast around 1 a.m. local daylight-saving time as June begins and an hour earlier by month's end. Look for it well up in the south-southeast an hour before sunrise. Its distinctive red-orange color will double in brightness during the month, becoming equal to the brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere. And that's just a start. Though Mars will not threaten the supremacy of Venus and Jupiter, by August it will far outshine everything else.
Jupiter will continue to dominate the evening sky in the west after sunset. It will appear lower each night as the month advances, setting around midnight in early June and by the end of twilight late in the month.
Venus and Mercury will appear together near the east-northeast horizon 30 to 45 minutes before sunrise during June. Venus will be brilliant white as always, but you may need binoculars to see Mercury to the right (east). After mid-month, Mercury will brighten and rapidly approach Venus, passing below it on June 21. Mercury will sink into the solar glare soon afterward, while Venus will stay at about the same height all month.
Saturn will be just above the west-northwest horizon in evening twilight for the first few days of June, setting soon after the sun. By the second week, it will have disappeared behind the sun.
Viewing information and graphics for the planets are available at http://www.space.com/spacewatch.
The sun will reach the June solstice on June 21 at 2:10 p.m. CDT (19:10 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.
Officially the first day of summer, June 21 is also referred to as Midsummer because it is roughly the middle of the growing season throughout much of Europe. Most societies in the Northern Hemisphere, ancient and modern, have celebrated a festival on or close to the June solstice. The themes common to all of these festivals are fertility and agriculture.
"Solstice" is derived from two Latin words: sol meaning sun, and sistere, to cause to stand still. This is because the sun rises higher in the southern sky each day until the summer solstice. On the day of the solstice it appears to rise to the same height as the day before, and in the days afterward it is lower, heading back toward its low point at the winter solstice. In this sense, the sun "stands still" for one day at the peak of its journey across the summer sky.
This time of year, between the planting and harvesting of the crops, was the traditional month for weddings. June remains a favorite month for marriage today. In some traditions, newly wed couples were fed dishes and beverages that featured honey for the first month of their married life to encourage love and fertility. The surviving vestige of this tradition is the name given to the holiday immediately after the ceremony, the honeymoon. The first full moon in June is sometimes called the Honey Moon.
The moon will be at first quarter on June 7, full on June 14, at third quarter on June 21 and new on June 29.