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.
Last chance to see! Morning planet bonanza
Two weeks ago, 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 this week from June 18 to 27.
Monday, June 20 – Third quarter Moon (at 11:11 pm EDT)
The Moon will officially reach its third quarter phase at 11:11 p.m. EDT or 8:11 p.m. PDT on Monday, June 20, which translates to 03:11 UTC on Tuesday, June 21. At third (or last) quarter the Moon is half-illuminated, on its western, sunward side. It will rise at around 1:30 a.m. local time, and then remain visible until it sets in the western daytime sky in early afternoon. Third quarter moons are positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the Sun. About 3½ hours later, Earth will occupy that same location in space. The week of dark, moonless evening skies that follow this phase are the best ones for observing deep-sky targets.
Tuesday, June 21 – June solstice (at 9:14 UTC)
On Tuesday, June 21 at 5:14 a.m. EDT or 2:14 a.m. PDT and 09:14 UTC, the Sun will reach its northernmost declination for the year, delivering the maximum daylight hours of the year for the Northern Hemisphere and the minimum daylight hours of the year for the Southern Hemisphere. The June solstice marks the beginning of the summer season in the Northern Hemisphere, and winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
Tuesday, June 21 – Waning Moon near Jupiter (all morning)
The Moon’s tour of the morning planets will continue with a nice photo opportunity on Tuesday, June 21 when the waning crescent Moon will shine a palm’s width to the lower right (or 5 degrees to the celestial southwest) of the bright planet Jupiter in the lower part of the east-southeastern sky. Jupiter will remain visible to the unaided eye from the time it rises after 1 a.m. local time until almost sunrise. The Moon will remain visible in the morning daytime sky, allowing you to spot Jupiter in daylight through binoculars by positioning the Moon towards the bottom of your field of view (inset). Once you see Jupiter, try finding its bright pinpoint without the binoculars.
Wednesday, June 22 – Crescent Moon meets Mars (pre-dawn)
On Wednesday morning, June 22, low in the eastern sky before dawn, the Moon’s pretty crescent will take up position a palm’s width to the right of Mars’ reddish dot. Bright Jupiter will shine off to their upper right (or celestial west). By the time the sky begins to brighten, the Moon and Mars will be cosy enough to share the view in binoculars. Observers in the Southern Ocean region can see the Moon occult Mars around 18:00 UTC.
Thursday, June 23 – Venus passes the Pleiades (before dawn)
On the mornings surrounding Thursday, June 23, the extremely bright planet Venus will pass binoculars-close (green circle) to the pretty Pleiades star cluster in Taurus. Look for the cluster, which is also designated Messier 45, sitting a slim palm’s width to the upper left (or 5.5 degrees to the celestial north) of the planet. They will be positioned low in the east-northeastern sky. The optimum viewing time at mid-northern latitudes will be centered around 4 a.m. local time. Observers at southerly latitudes will see the meet-up higher and in a darker sky about an hour later.
Friday, June 24 – Old Moon hops Uranus (pre-dawn)
Low in the eastern sky before dawn on Friday morning, June 24, the old crescent Moon will shine a generous palm’s width to the upper left (or 6.5 degrees to the celestial southwest) of the small, magnitude 5.8 speck of Uranus. On the following morning, the Moon will hop east to sit 5 degrees to Uranus’ lower left, close enough to share the view in binoculars. In the interim, observers in western and northern Australia and eastern Indonesia can see the Moon occult Uranus before dawn on Saturday.
Sunday, June 26 – Crescent Moon and Venus photo opportunity (pre-dawn)
A gorgeous photo opportunity arrives in the hour before sunrise on Sunday, June 26 when the delicate, slim crescent of the old Moon will shine just to the upper left (or 2.5 degrees to the celestial north) of the very bright planet Venus. Look for the duo shining just above the east-northeastern horizon, flanked below and above by Mercury and the Pleiades star cluster, respectively. Or, just enjoy the spectacle with your unaided eyes or in binoculars.
Monday, June 27 – Mercury and the Crescent Moon (before sunrise)
The Moon’s monthly trip past the bright pre-dawn planets comes to an end on Monday, June 27 when the silver sliver of the old Moon’s crescent will shine several finger widths to the upper left (or 3.5 degrees to the celestial north) of the bright dot of Mercury. Find them above the east-northeastern horizon. The duo will share the view in binoculars (green circle), but be sure to turn optics away from the eastern horizon before the sun rises. Observers viewing from the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere will see the pair shining in a darker sky.
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.