MANITOBA SKIES – June 2018
June is the least-dark month of all, with the sun rising early and setting late. Manitobans don't even get true "night" at all, with several weeks of perpetual twilight around the solstice date. Still, there are many great celestial sights to be seen in June's night skies for those who stay up late or rise early.
The brilliant star low in the west just after sunset is the planet Venus. Venus stays low in the western sky, although it's visible until nearly midnight because of the artificially-late sunsets caused by Daylight Savings Time. It's easy to identify - since it's brighter than any other object in the sky except the sun and moon, it is the "first star you'll see tonight" all month long, although you'll need to avoid any tall buildings or trees along your western horizon. Head out about 30 minutes after sunset and you should easily spot the brightest planet.
Don't confuse Venus for Jupiter, nearly as bright and on the opposite end of the sky. Jupiter is in the southeast at sunset, and moves into the southern sky as darkness falls. Jupiter dominates the southern sky all night. Binoculars will show several tiny dots of light lined up with the planet - these are some of Jupiter's four largest moons. They will change their position from night to night, making an interesting site every time you observe the giant planet. Even a small telescope can show Jupiter's cloud bands - it's one of the sky's highlights.
The only planet that can eclipse Jupiter for visual interest is the ringed planet Saturn, which rises about 11 p.m. and follows Jupiter across the sky. Saturn is over a billion kilometres away, and so you'll need a telescope to show the rings, but the view is well worth it.
Bringing up the rear in this month's planetary cavalcade is the red planet Mars. Mars is coming into its best viewing circumstances this summer, when it will be closer than it has been since 2003. Still, it's just a bright red "star" unless you have a good telescope. The Planetarium will be hosting Mars observing sessions over the summer; stay tuned for details. (Despite what you may read on less-reputable websites, Mars will not be as big as the Moon.)
To see where things are in the night sky, visit Heavens-Above's excellent Sky Chart page for Winnipeg, and adjust the times and dates for when you will be observing. For other locations, visit the Settings page and choose the nearest city or town.
Sky Events - June 2018
All times below are given in Central Daylight Time (CDT), the local time zone for all of Manitoba.
Wednesday, June 6th - Last Quarter Moon.
Wednesday, June 13th - New Moon.
Saturday, June 16th (evening) -The crescent moon is near Venus in the western sky.
Wednesday, June 20th - First Quarter Moon.
Thursday, June 21st at 1:07 a.m. - Summer Solstice - The official start of summer in the northern hemisphere. This is the point where the sun rises the farthest north of east, and sets the farthest south of west, hits its highest point at noon, and gives us the longest period of daylight hours. Unless you live at Stonehenge or are watching really closely, though, you're unlikely to notice a difference between today and tomorrow or even next week. This is the extreme point of a year-long cycle, which makes it easy to measure but doesn't necessarily relate to the weather or what summer feels like at various points around the world.
Saturday, June 23rd - The waxing gibbous moon is near Jupiter tonight. If you watch early in the evening, and then again later at night, you will be able to see two of the celestial motions we usually ignore. The pair of objects will have moved farther to the south and west because the Earth is rotating on its axis once a day, but the Moon will also have moved farther away from Jupiter. This latter motion is caused by the Moon's orbital motion around the Earth, something we don't normally notice in a single evening.
Wednesday, June 27th - Saturn at opposition - Full Moon nearby - Another one of those "extreme points" of a long-term celestial cycle, Saturn reaches the point in its orbit when it is opposite the sun in our sky. This means that Saturn rises about sunset, is at its highest point in the south about midnight, and sets as the sun rises. However, it happens to occur on the same night as Full Moon - which is essentially the Moon's opposition as well. So, this will be a good night to go out and catch the two most spectacular objects in the sky at the same time.
Other events of interest to sky watchers can be found in SkyNews magazine, the Canadian Magazine of Astronomy & Stargazing.
To spot the International Space Station as it passes over southern Manitoba, visit Heavens-Above.com which calculates times and directions for you.