Stargazing: This month’s night sky

June 2021

We are halfway through 2021, and as we head into June the days are getting noticeably longer. Here in the northern hemisphere we lose our darkest night skies to astronomical twilight, as the sun isn’t dipping as low below the horizon which may make it harder to see some of the fainter stars and objects. Luckily, there is still plenty to see so make sure to take advantage of the (hopefully) warmer evenings for more comfortable viewing conditions.

The Summer Solstice

One of the main events happening this month is the “June” or the “summer” solstice. This occurs at around the same time each year. This year, the summer solstice falls on the 21st of June and marks the “longest day” and “shortest night” in the northern hemisphere. The Sun will rise around 04:43 in the northwest and set about 21:44 giving us around 17 hours of daylight to enjoy!

The solstice happens because of the Earth’s tilt. The Earth’s axis is tilted slightly, at around 23 degrees, which means that as the Earth moves around the Sun, for half of the year the northern hemisphere of the planet is leaning slightly towards the Sun, and the southern hemisphere is leaning slightly away. The moment the northern hemisphere is tilted most towards the Sun, we have our summer solstice – whereas the southern hemisphere experiences its winter solstice.

June Solstice: The northern hemisphere is at its greatest tilt towards the Sun. The 21st of June marks the longest day and the start of astronomical summer.

Annular Solar Eclipse

In a solar eclipse, the Moon will pass in front of the Sun and block out some of its light. There are three types of solar eclipse: total, partial and annular. During a total eclipse, the Moon blocks out almost all of the Sun’s light, leaving behind only a faint ring of, called the corona (the Sun’s atmosphere), which is usually too difficult to see. This occurs because the Moon is around 400 times smaller than the Sun, but also happens to be about 400 times closer.

During a partial eclipse, the Moon crosses the Sun off centre, leaving behind a crescent shaped portion of the Sun still visible.

In an annular eclipse, the Moon is too far away from the Earth to cover the Sun completely so that the edge of the Sun is visible around the whole edge of the Moon.

The three types of solar eclipse: total (in which just the Sun’s atmosphere is visible), partial (where the Moon covers all but a crescent shaped portion of the Sun) and annular (the Moon is not far away enough from the Earth to cover the sun completely). An annular eclipse will be visible to northern latitudes on the 10th  of June 2021).

This month, an Annular solar eclipse will be best seen across the north of Canada, Greenland and Russia on the 10th of June 2021 – a partial eclipse may be visible from much of northern Europe (including the UK), Asia and the US weather permitting. Click here to find out the best time to see it at your location.

Remember: it is very dangerous to look at the Sun directly, even during an eclipse (or wearing sunglasses)! Part of the Sun’s surface will still be visible. Use extreme caution, and make sure to never look directly at the Sun. A pinhole viewer can be easily made to view the eclipse, using two pieces of card or paper.

The Moon

Third Quarter 2nd June
New Moon 10th June
First Quarter 18th June
Full Moon* 24th June

Planets

Saturn and Jupiter: Towards the end of this month, Jupiter and Saturn (on the right) may be visible towards the South East from around 1am (BST) heading into the early hours of the morning. If you have a telescope, keep an eye out for Jupiter’s largest moons throughout June.

Venus: Venus is best viewed as an evening planet in the West, setting below the horizon about 90 minutes after sunset.

Stars

The lighter night skies make star and planet spotting more difficult, so for better views try looking around when the moon is new or less bright in the sky.

Regulus

Early in the month is a good time to catch a last glimpse of Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo before it disappears below the horizon. Leo can be found by looking for a backwards question mark (or Sickle shape) in the western sky, above the horizon after around 11pm (BST). Regulus is a blue-white star and sits at the bottom of the backwards question mark pattern. It represents the heart of Leo, the Nemean Lion of Greek mythology that was killed by Heracles (Hercules to the Romans) during one of his twelve labours.

Looking west we see the constellation of Leo, home to the bright blue-white star Regulus. Regulus and Leo can both be identified by looking for the shape of a sickle or backwards question mark in the sky.

The constellation of Leo the Lion with the constellation of Sextans the Sextant on the lower left. Facing West at 11:30pm 07/06/2021.

 

Deneb

The star Deneb can be seen by looking east, above the horizon, later in the month. Deneb is one of three bright stars in the summer sky that make up an asterism (a pattern of stars that not a constellation) known the “Summer Triangle”. The other two points of the triangle are the stars Vega (in the constellation of Lyra) and Altair (in the constellation of Aquila).

Deneb sits in the constellation of Cygnus, the Swan. Find Cygnus by looking for five stars in the shape of a cross known as the “Northern Cross”. The Northern Cross makes up the backbone of Cygnus and at the tail of the swan sits Deneb.

The red lines mark the Northern Cross asterism, a smaller pattern of stars within the constellation of Cygnus. Looking directly upwards, 23:50 (BST) on the 25/05/2021

Spacecraft

On clear nights, have a go at spotting the International Space Station! You can find out when your best chance of spotting the ISS from your location by checking out this page

On the 3rd of June, NASA and Space X will be hoping to launch a cargo resupply mission from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Find out more about this launch and resupply missions here

Whether you are watching the skies from your back garden or discovering your nearest dark sky site, remember to stay safe and warm and to give your eyes plenty of time to adjust to the darkness to see the faintest objects! Happy gazing!

Happy Stargazing! #WatchTheSkies

 

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Collins 2021 Guide to the Night Sky
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