Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter
Have you been watching your equinox marker? Today marks an important date for the Sun’s journey across the sky. In ancient times, and even in our modern ones, sundials are used to measure time. The position of the Sun today will allow a well placed sundial will match a standard clock. Although a sundial is fairly accurate, we apply a correction known as the Equation of Time and only four times a year does it reach zero.
Comet 9/P Tempel 1 is sailing through Virgo and is now nearing magnitude 9 – putting it within reach of most telescopes. If you haven’t found the object of Deep Impact yet, you’ll be happy to know that Heaven’s Above is now offering highly accurate locator charts. In a smaller scope, it is dim, small, and has a slight concentration toward the core. For the very large scope, note the intense stellar nucleus and wide fan of the tail. I have been observing this comet now for weeks and it looks very much like the picture in a big scope. Now, go… Find it!
Tuesday, June 14 – For those located near 40 degrees north, today will be the earliest sunrise of the year. Tonight the Moon reaches first quarter and this would be a wonderful opportunity to look for the “Alpine Valley” in the lunar northern hemisphere. Valles Alpes will appear as a long, dark scar running through the foothills west of crater Aristotle.
If you would like more of a challenge, then know that Pluto is now at opposition and viewable in Serpens Caudia west of Xi Serpentis. At close to magnitude 14, the tiny planet will require at least a moderate-sized telescope to view, and a very accurate locator chart. In order to distinguish Pluto from background stars, I suggest sketching the field and observing over a number of nights to see which “star” moves.
Wednesday, June 15 – For most observers, Jupiter and the Moon will have wonderfully close encounter as they follow each other across the sky. Tonight on the lunar surface, look just south of central for the descending three rings of Ptolmaeus, Alphonsus and Arzachel. To the west of Arzachel near the terminator, you will see the smooth floor of Mare Nubium. Look for a very curious feature called the “Straight Wall”. It will appear like a very thin, black line that extends from crater Thebit.
While out, take the time to check out Alpha Herculis -Ras Algethi. You will find it not only to be an interesting variable, but a colorful double as well. The primary star is one of the largest known red giants and at about 430 light years away, it is also one of the coolest. Its 5.4 magnitude greenish companion star is easily separated in even small scopes – but even it is a binary! This entire star system is enclosed in an expanding gaseous shell that originates from the evolving red giant. Enjoy it tonight.
Thursday, June 16 – North Australia and New Zealand are featured on this universal date as the Moon occults Jupiter. Be sure to check out this IOTA webpage for precise times in your area. You won’t want to miss it…
The June Lyrids meteor shower will also peak in the early morning hours and will be best after the the Moon has set. With the radiant near bright Vega. you may see up to 15 faint blue meteors per hour from this branch of the May Lyrid meteor stream.
Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space, 32 years ago today. She flew aboard the Russian spacecraft, Vostok 6, and her solo flight is still unique.
Although the Moon will fade the view, telescope users might be able to just make out Comet 2004 Q2 Machholz as it passes about a degree east of Alpha Canum. Although we have explored Cor Caroli before, take the time again to check out the soft orange and lavender colors of this splendid double star.
Friday, June 17 – Ah, to waltz around the “Bay of Rainbows” with you! Tonight the lunar surface will offer the telescopic opportunity to view one of perhaps the most romantic of areas – Sinus Iridium. Look to the lunar north where you will discover the smooth bay partially encircled by the Juras Mountains. Promentoriums Heraclides and LaPlace stand like distant lighthouses at either tip. If seeing conditions are good, you will note many graceful rilles, like frozen waves, crossing its floor.
If you don’t own a telescope, Sinus Iridium still shows quite well in binoculars. For unaided viewers? See if you can spot cool, blue Spica nearby.
Saturday, June 18 – Today in 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to go into orbit. Sally’s ride? The Space Shuttle!
But you won’t need the Space Shuttle to take you into orbit tonight as the lunar surface becomes a binocular hunter’s paradise. Starting in the lunar north, look for the blank, loveless eye of Plato and the dramatically brightening rays of Tycho to the south. Look for ancient Copernicus just slightly west of the mid-section and the brilliant points of light near the terminator that are Keplar to the north and Artistarchus to its south. Eroded crater Gassendi on the shore of Mare Humorum to the south will round out our lunar tour.
For North American observers, be sure to check out Saturn before it sets. Like a temporary “moon”, 7th magnitude star SAO79782 will be visible to its north.
Sunday, June 19 – If you are up just before dawn this morning, keep an eye on the sky as we pass through another portion of the Ophiuchid meteor stream. The radiant for this pass will be more near Sagittarius and the fall rate varies from 8 to 20, but can sometimes produce unexpectedly more.
No matter what time zone you live in, Jupiter will be a lively place tonight! For some viewers, you will see a very close pairing of Ganymede and Europa – and for others, Io and Europa. For viewers well positioned at 22:19 UT, the “Great Red Spot” will also transit.
If you haven’t been following the intricate dance of the evening planets, then go out just after sunset and look! Venus, Saturn, and Mercury are now within a fist width apart, sitting low in the west-northwest during. Mercury, the lowest of the three, sets about 1 1/2 hours after sunset, so don’t wait too late to observe. The planets will contine to move closer all next week, so mark your calendars for next weekend when they appear only 1.5 degrees apart. You won’t want to miss this!
Keep your eyes on the skies and may all your journeys be at Light Speed! …~Tammy Plotner