Stargazing: This month’s night sky

June 2020

Whilst we’ve lost our ‘evening star’, the brilliant planet Venus, as it moves behind the sun, gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn are bright in the eastern sky around midnight and will rise earlier as the month progresses. Easy to spot with the naked eye, they shine with a steady light (unlike stars, which twinkle).

June is also the month of the summer solstice, the day of the year when we have most daylight. This of course means the shortest night – so less time for stargazing, however on the plus side warmer evenings make staying out late more appealing!

Here are a few things to look out for this month…

Hercules and M13

Hercules, the mighty hero from mythology, is not too impressive as a constellation at first glance but is worth exploring with binoculars. This is where you’ll find the deep sky object M13 (the ‘Great Hercules Cluster’). What appears as a fuzzy blob through binoculars is actually a tightly packed group of about 300,000 stars which are around 12 to 13 billion years old – almost as old as the Universe itself.

The sprawling Hercules constellation lies in the south at this time of year, between 2 bright stars; Arcturus in the constellation Boötes and Vega, a blue-white star in the constellation Lyra the harp.  The easiest part of Hercules to spot is the pattern called the ‘keystone’ – named because it looks like the wedge-shaped stone at the top of an arch. M13 can be found between the two western stars of the ‘keystone’.

Above: Globular Cluster M13 as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope

Above: Looking south in June. Hercules and Corona Borealis between the bright stars Vega and Arcturus (image from Stellarium)

The Northern Crown- Corona Borealis

Small but easy to recognise, this neat semi-circle of stars can be spotted between the keystone of Hercules and the kite shape of Boötes.

Antares: ‘rival of Mars’

Look down from the Northern Crown towards the southern horizon around midnight to see the red supergiant star Antares. Around 700 times the size of the Sun, this is the brightest star in the Scorpius (scorpion) constellation. Only the head of the scorpion is visible above the horizon from northern latitudes like the UK.

Left: Looking south in June around midnight. Bright star Antares is visible close to the horizon.

Summer solstice – ‘sun stands still’

Popularly known as ‘the shortest day’ the summer solstice occurs this year on Saturday 20 June at 22:43 (BST). Although we often think of it as a day, the solstice is actually a moment -the point when the northern hemisphere is most tilted towards the Sun. It may occur at any time, even during the night, as it has nothing to do with the Earth’s rotation.

The word ‘solstice’ comes from the Latin words ‘sol’ meaning ‘Sun’ and ‘sistere’ – ‘to stand still’. It’s the exact moment when the apparent movement of the Sun’s path north or south stops before changing direction. On the day of the summer solstice, the Sun’s midday position in the sky is at its highest – after this day the Sun’s midday position gets gradually lower.

Click here for more about the solstice and summer

Planets

Jupiter rises in the southeast around 11pm, looking extremely bright and with gas giant Saturn close by (to the left/east)

Venus has disappeared behind the Sun and will reappear in morning skies mid-month. Because Venus’ orbit lies closer to the Sun than the Earth’s, it always appears close to the Sun but is lost in the Sun’s glare much of the time.

Mars rises around 1.30am at the beginning of the month and brightens as the month progresses.

Moon Phases

Full Moon (‘Strawberry Moon’ or ‘Rose Moon’) 5th June
Third Quarter 13th June
New Moon 21st June
First Quarter 28th June

International Space Station

With beautifully clear evening skies recently there have been some great opportunities to spot the International Space Station. Click here to find out times to view the ISS from your location.

Happy Stargazing! #WatchTheSkies