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Hal Kibbey

Last modified: Thursday, June 2, 2011


June 2, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As darkness falls during June, Saturn will materialize high in the southwest, setting well after midnight. The yellow planet will be about the same brightness as the nearby blue-white star Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. Saturn's rings will be tilted 7 degrees to our line of sight this month, as close to edgewise as they will get this year.

Saturn's biggest and brightest moon, Titan, can be seen easily through any telescope. Titan will be farthest west of Saturn on June 8 and 24 and farthest east on June 16.


Photo courtesy of NASA

Jupiter will rise about two hours before the sun at the beginning of June and two hours earlier by month's end. The best time to observe it with a telescope will be in morning twilight, when it is highest in the east. The planet'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.

Morning twilight will also be the time to look for much fainter Mars far to Jupiter's lower left (east). The red-orange planet will be about the same color as the bright star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus the Bull below it. In the middle of the month, Mars will rise about an hour after Jupiter and two hours before the sun.

Venus will appear to the lower left (east) of Mars a half hour before sunrise. More than 100 times brighter than Mars, brilliant white Venus will be visible in the brightening sky unless it is blocked by an object on the ground. The two planets will appear close at the beginning of June, but the gap between them will widen considerably as the month passes.

Mercury will be out of sight most of the month, passing behind the sun on June 12. It will reappear in the evening sky after sunset during the final week of the month, very close to the west-northwestern horizon. On June 30, Mercury will form a horizontal straight line with the bright stars Pollux and Castor of the constellation Gemini the Twins.

Lunar eclipse

On the night of June 15-16, observers across most of Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia will see a total lunar eclipse as the moon passes through the middle of Earth's shadow. People watching in Africa and southern Asia will see the entire eclipse, while those in Australia, much of Europe and eastern South America will see at least part of it. Totality will begin at 19:22 Universal Time and last one hour and 40 minutes.

Meteor shower

The Bootid meteor shower will peak on the night of June 27-28, when Earth will pass through part of the debris trail of the comet that caused 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 curved handle of the Big Dipper will serve as a conspicuous marker. The International Meteor Organization provides more information at


The sun will reach the June solstice on June 21 at 1:16 p.m. EDT (17:16 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.

The word "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 each day 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 1, at first quarter on June 8, full on June 15 and at third quarter on June 23.