Every week, SkyNews publishes a list of key events in the Canadian sky in This Week’s Sky. This series gives you all the latest news in Solar System movements, including where the planets are in our sky and Moon phases. From eclipses to meteor showers, This Week’s Sky keeps you updated on the best in upcoming astronomical highlights.
All week: Morning planet bonanza
Last week, June 10, the speedy planet Mercury climbed far enough west of the Sun for it to become visible just above the east-northeastern horizon from mid-northern latitudes. Its arrival has allowed the five bright planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn to be seen with unaided eyes, arranged in the order of their distance from the Sun, until almost sunrise. The 90 degree long string of planets will remain visible for the rest of June. Owners of binoculars and telescopes can seek out the faint dot of blue-green Uranus near extremely bright Venus, and tiny, blue Neptune lurking between Jupiter and Saturn. Fine photo opportunities arrive when the waning Moon passes the planets from June 18 to 27.
Tuesday, June 14 – Full Strawberry Supermoon (at 11:52 UTC)
The Moon will officially reach its full phase at 7:52 a.m. EDT (or 4:52 a.m. PDT and 11:52 UTC) on Tuesday, June 14. When the Moon rises at sunset many hours later in the Americas, it will already be waning – showing a thin, dark strip along its eastern (upper) limb. The June full Moon, colloquially known as the Strawberry Moon, Mead Moon, Rose Moon or Hot Moon, always shines in or near the stars of Sagittarius, the Archer. The Ojibwe people of the Great Lakes region call this Moon Ode’miin Giizis, the Strawberry Moon. For the Cree Nation it’s Opiniyawiwipisim, the Egg Laying Moon (referring to the activities of wild water-fowl). The Mohawks call it Ohiarí:Ha, the Fruits are Small Moon. The Cherokee call it Tihaluhiyi, the “the Green Corn Moon”, when crops are growing. The Moon only appears full when it is opposite the sun in the sky, so full moons always rise in the east as the sun is setting, and set in the west at sunrise. Since sunlight is hitting the Moon face-on at that time, no shadows are cast. All of the variations in brightness you see arise from differences in the reflectivity, or albedo, of the lunar surface rocks. The June Moon will be full only half a day before lunar perigee, producing higher tides worldwide and the first of two consecutive supermoons for 2022. Supermoons shine about 16-per-cent brighter and appear six-per-cent larger than an average full Moon.
Thursday, June 16 – Mercury at greatest western elongation (pre-dawn)
On Thursday, June 16, Mercury will swing to a maximum angle of 23 degrees west of the Sun, and reach peak visibility for its current morning apparition. Between about 4:30 and 5 a.m. in your local time zone, look for the magnitude 0.45 planet shining very low in the east-northeastern sky. It will be positioned a fist diameter to the lower left of much brighter Venus. In a telescope (inset) Mercury will exhibit a 36-per-cent illuminated, waxing crescent phase. Mercury’s position well below (south of) a shallowly-dipping morning ecliptic (green line) will make this a poor apparition for mid-Northern latitude observers, but a fine showing for those located near the Equator, and farther south. Don’t worry if skies are cloudy on Thursday. Mercury will be nearly as far from the sun on the surrounding mornings.
Saturday, June 18 – Gibbous Moon joins Saturn (midnight to dawn)
The Moon will begin its monthly trip past the morning planets on Saturday morning, June 18. When the waning gibbous Moon clears the treetops in the southeast by about 1 a.m. local time, it will be shining a generous palm’s width to the lower right of the yellowish dot of Saturn, almost close enough for them to share the view in binoculars. During the wee hours of the morning, more bright planets will rise off to their left (celestial east). The Moon and Saturn will have moved into the southern sky by the time the morning twilight hides the ringed planet.
Sunday, June 19 – Moon passes asteroid Vesta (midnight to dawn)
After 24 hours of easterly travel, on Sunday morning, June 19, the waning Moon will pass within a thumb’s width below (or 1.5 degrees south of) the main belt asteroid designated (4) Vesta. That’s close enough for the Moon and magnitude 6.75 Vesta to share the view in a widefield telescope eyepiece (green circle). When they first clear the treetops in the east-southeastern sky, Vesta will be positioned to the Moon’s upper left. The diurnal rotation of the sky will lift Vesta above the Moon by 4 a.m. Observers in most of Antarctica, the tip of South America, and the Falkland Islands can see the Moon occult Vesta around 08:00 UTC.
Chris Vaughan is a science writer, geophysicist, astronomer, planetary scientist and an “outreach RASCal.” He writes Astronomy Skylights, and you can follow him on Twitter at @astrogeoguy. He can also bring his Digital Starlab portable inflatable planetarium to your school or other daytime or evening event. Contact him through AstroGeo.ca to tour the Universe together.