The Sky Above You – June 2020
By Duncan Lunan
The Moon will be Full on June 5th, with a faint penumbral lunar eclipse, and it will be New on June 21st, on which there will be an annular solar eclipse, visible from central Africa, northern India and China. The summer solstice is on June 20th and the Sighthill stone circle – the first astronomically aligned one for over 3000 years, which I built for Glasgow Parks Department in 1979 – was to have been opened to the public at its new site, at the eastern end of the former Sighthill Park, overlooking Pinkston Road. But that was dependent on the access road being open by that time, and all work on the site has been stopped due to the coronavirus restrictions.
Early in June the planet Mercury sets in the evening sky around 11 p.m., reaching greatest elongation from the Sun on June 4th and disappearing by mid-month.
Venus passes inferior conjunction on this side of the Sun on June 3rd and reappears in the morning sky in mid-June, rising at 3 a.m. by the end of the month. On the morning of June 19th Venus will appear near the Moon, and will pass behind it in daylight between 8.40 and 9.40 a.m.. As both will be fairly near the Sun, be sure to stay focused on the Moon if watching through a telescope or binoculars. By the end of June Venus rises at 3 a.m..
Mars is in Capricornus and rises about 1.30 a.m. in June as it moves into Pisces, 1.5 degrees below Neptune on the 13th and 14th. The Moon is near Mars on June 12th.
In June Jupiter rises about 11 p.m. in Sagittarius, 20 minutes before Saturn in Capricornus. The crescent Moon is near both of them on June 8th to 9th.
Saturn is close to Jupiter throughout, as above.
Uranus reappears in Aries about 2.30 a.m. in late June, after its superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun in March. The Moon appears near Uranus on June 17th.
Neptune in Aquarius rises about 1 a.m. in June, 1.5 degrees above Mars on the 13th and 14th. Neptune comes to its ‘stationary point’, when its motion against the stars appears to pause, on June 23rd. For the rest of the year it will move ‘retrograde’, from east to west, as the Earth moves past it around the Sun.
June has no meteor showers, but twilight persists throughout the night here in Scotland during June and July in any case. This provides a good opportunity to look for mysterious noctilucent clouds in the north, floating high in the atmosphere and lit by sunlight from below the horizon. Most guides to the sky say they’re ice crystals, but they’re too high up to be ‘normal’ ice, and since they reflect sunlight perfectly no-one knows for sure what they are.
Duncan Lunan’s latest book “From the Moon to the Stars”, a collection of space travel stories old and new relating to the Moon and Project Apollo, illustrated by Sydney Jordan, is now available from the publishers at https://othersidebooks.wordpress.com, as well as on Amazon or through booksellers; details of that and his other books are on Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.
The Sky Above You
By Duncan Lunan
About this Column
I began writing this column in early 1983 at the suggestion of the late Chris Boyce. At that time the Post Office would allow 1000 free mailings to start a new business, just under the number of small press newspapers in the UK at the time. I printed a flyer with the help of John Braithwaite (of Braithwaite Telescopes) offering a three-part column for £5, with the sky this month, a series of articles for beginners, and a monthly news feature. The column ran from May 1983 to May 1993 in various newspapers and magazines, but never in more than five outlets at a time, although every one of those 1000-plus papers would have included an astrology column. Since then it’s appeared sporadically in a range of publications including The Southsider in Glasgow and the Dalyan Courier in Turkey, but most often, normally three times per year, in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos from the first issue in March 2003 until the last in January 2018. It continues to appear monthly in Troon's Going Out and Orkney News. Enquries from other outlets welcomed!
The monthly maps for the column were drawn for me by Jim Barker, based on similar, uncredited ones in Dr. Leon Hausman’s “Astronomy Handbook” (Fawcett Publications, 1956). Jim had to redraw or elongate several of them because they were drawn for mid-US latitudes, about 40 degrees North, making them usable over most of the northern hemisphere. The biggest change needed was in November when only Dubhe, Merak and Megrez of the Big Dipper, as the US version called it, were visible at that latitude. In the UK, all the stars of the Plough are circumpolar, always above the horizon. We decided to keep an insert in the January map showing the position of M42, the Great Nebula in the Sword of Orion, and for that reason, to stick with the set time of 9 p.m., (10 p.m. BST in summer), although in Scotland the sky isn’t dark then during June and July.
To use the maps in theory you should hold them overhead, aligning the North edge to true north, marked by Polaris and indicated by Dubhe and Merak, the Pointers. It’s more practical to hold the map in front of you when looking south and then rotate it as you face east, south and west. Some readers are confused because east is on the left, opposite to terrestrial maps, but that’s because they’re the other way up. When you’re facing south and looking at the sky, east is on your left.
The star patterns are the same for each month of each year, and only the positions of the planets change. (“Astronomy Handbook” accidentally shows Saturn in Virgo during May, showing that the maps weren’t originally drawn for the Hausman book.) Consequently regular readers for a year will by then have built up a complete set of twelve.