The month of June is underscored by several astronomical events, but Saturn and the Moon are sure to be the main the topic of discussion among astronomers over the coming weeks.
A planetary pas de deux
The first weeks of June are highlighted by a planetary dance between Venus and Mercury. The two planets appear low on the west-northwest horizon, at dusk, about twenty minutes after sunset. Thanks to its unmistakable brilliance, Venus is easy to see with the naked eye and serves as a guide. Mercury is located just above it, but is somewhat more difficult to spot in the glow of twilight. The tiny planet is not nearly as bright, and gets increasingly fainter during this period: A pair of binoculars will be necessary in order to see it. From evening to evening, the celestial duo gradually approaches one another. On June 10, a thin crescent Moon will appear near the two planets, providing a good occasion to spot Mercury.
Another opportunity to locate Mercury will occur on June 18, when it will be just to the left of Venus: This is the ideal time to find the furtive planet as is quickly orbits the Sun.
Saturn is currently on the border of Virgo and Libra, and is easily visible in the south at nightfall. However, three bright stars, Spica, Arcturus and Antares, are in the same region of sky, and for those less familiar with the constellations, their presence may complicate the identification of Saturn. The Moon can help pinpoint the ringed planet: On the evenings of June 18 and 19, the gibbous Moon will appear just beneath Saturn.
Amateur and professional astronomers alike, all agree: Saturn is amazing to see, even through a small telescope. Its famous rings are easy to observe and create a striking contrast against the planet’s surface. It’s an experience not to be missed. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with local astronomy clubs — or maybe even your neighbours! The fact is, a lot of people own a small telescope. Try to observe Saturn right after dark, while it’s still high in the sky: The show is well worth the effort!
Against wind and tide
Tides are a phenomenon that occurs twice a day and they are very familiar to those who live by the sea, or large bodies of water. However, on certain occasions during the year, their ebb and low is exaggerated.
Such an event will occur around the full Moon on June 23. On this date, the Moon will be at perigee (the point on its orbit closest to Earth). Indeed, the Earth-Moon distance will be just 356,991 kilometers — the shortest of 2013.
This confluence of factors means that tides will be quite pronounced on June 23 and 24. A similar situation will be repeated around the full Moon of July 22, so be careful if you vacation by the seaside this summer.
The summer solstice
The summer season begins on June 21 in the Northern Hemisphere. To be more precise, the solstice occurs on that date at exactly 1:04 A.M. That also means the night of June 20 to June 21 will be the shortest of the year.