This is the mid point of the year and June brings our summer solstice on the 21st of this month.
This time of year the night sky is never quite getting dark. It’s not the greatest month for spotting faint stars. Only the brightest stars can be seen. You can take advantage of the soft, warm weather to acquaint yourself with the summer constellations of Hercules, Scorpius, Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila. And watch Venus and Mars as they encounter the star cluster known as the Beehive
Look for the bright stars like Vega in Lyra, which is high in the eastern sky, as is the Summer Triangle it forms with Altair in Aquila and Deneb in Cygnus returns to prominence.
There are two very nice objects to spot with binoculars in the eastern sky well after dark this month. Two thirds of the way up the right hand side of the 4 stars that make up the “keystone” in the constellation Hercules is M13, the best globular cluster visible in the northern sky.
Just to the left of the bright star Vega in Lyra is the multiple star system Epsilon Lyrae often called the double-double. With binoculars a binary star is seen but, when observed with a telescope, each of these two stars is revealed to be a double star – hence the name!
The Sun follows a shallow arc below our North horizon overnight, the geometry allowing views of noctilucent clouds, whose silvery-blue tracery may gleam low down between the northwest after nightfall and the northeast before dawn. Noctilucent clouds are formed by ice crystals coalescing around dust particles. They float near 82km in altitude where they reflect sunlight after our normal clouds are in darkness.
The innermost planet is too close to the sun for observation this month.
The evening star once again dominates the short summer nights before setting below the horizon around midnight. At a stunning magnitude of –4.4, Venus begins the month next to Castor and Pollux, and heads towards Mars; reaching its greatest separation from the Sun on 4rg June. On the 13th of the month Venus brushes past the M44 Beehive star cluster. I suggest a good pair of binoculars of a low power telescope for the best view. On the 21st June the shortest night of the year the thin crescent Moon pairs up with Venus in a beautiful twilight sceptical with Mars lying to the left.
Considerably fainter than Venus at magnitude +1.6, the red planet falls below the horizon just after midnight. On the 2nd day of the month Mars appears to lie in the midst of the swarming mass of stars that make up M44 the Beehive cluster. Starting the month in the constellation of Cancer it crosses into Leo on the 22nd June. The very same night that you will see Venus to the right of the crescent Moon and in between will be fainter Mars, with the star Regulus to the left of the Moon
Clearing the horizon about 3.30am, Jupiter is king of the morning sky at a glorious magnitude –2.2. The gas giant is in the constellation of Aries this month. On the 14th of June Jupiter lies next to the thin crescent Moon low in the morning twilight
The first planet to appear after midnight is the ring world Saturn. Rising above the horizon about 1am. Saturn can be found in the constellation of Aquarius, shinning at magnitude +0.9. On the morning of 10th of the month the Last quarter Moon will be close to Saturn.
The gas giant reappears in the morning sky, in the last few days of June, rising about 2.30am. It can be located in the constellation of Aries, shinning at magnitude +5.8.
Keen observers with a telescope can now see Neptune in the early morning skies. With a dim magnitude of +7.9, this distant planet is rising around 1.30am and can be found in the constellation Pisces.
This distant planet can be found in the constellation of Capricornus. Although it will always be low down and only visible in a ten-inch or larger telescope in a truly dark sky. The dwarf planet rises at 11.41pm at magnitude 14.4.
The largest object in the asteroid belt can be located in the constellation of Virgo this month. At magnitude 8.38 it sets below the horizon around 2.30am.
Bright Supernova in the M101 Spiral Galaxy
On 19th May, Japanese astronomer Koichi Itagaki discovered a supernova in the nearby face on spiral galaxy M101, given the designation SN 2023ixf. The supernova was discovered at magnitude 14.9 and had brightened to 12th magnitude by the night of 20th/21st May. Above you can see before and after images taken by BAA member Peter Tickner.
SN 2023ixf is a type II supernova. These are the end of life of a massive star. The star runs out of fuel for nuclear fusion in its core, which leads to the rapid collapse of the core triggering a violent thermonuclear explosion that destroys the star.
M101 is a face on spiral galaxy in the constellation of Ursa Major, commonly known as the Plough. The galaxy is located just off the tail of the bear.
SN 2023ixf occurred in the photogenic Pinwheel Galaxy M101, which, being only about 21 million light years away, makes it the closest supernova seen in the past five years, the second closest in the past 10 years, and the second supernova found in M101 in the past 15 years. Rapid follow up observations already indicate that SN 2023ixf is a Type II supernova, an explosion that occurs after a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel and collapses.
SN 2023ixf will likely brighten and remain visible to telescopes for months. Studying such a close and young Type II supernova may yield new clues about massive stars and how they explode.
2nd June – Mars lies right in the middle of M44 the Beehive star cluster. Though it’s low in the sky it is a great sight in binoculars or a low power telescope.
3rd June – The almost full Moon skims just above the bright red giant Antares.
13th June – Venus passes just above the Beehive star cluster.
14th June – Jupiter lies next to the thin crescent Moon, low in the morning dawn sky.
21st June – The longest day of the year – The summer solstice. – The thin crescent Moon pairs up with Venus in a lovely twilight sceptical, with Mars lying to the left.
22nd June – Venus lies to the right of the crescent Moon. With a fainter Mars and Regulus in between.
Phases of the Moon for June:-
Full Moon 4th June
Last quarter 10th June
New Moon 18th June
First quarter 26th June