Get ready for summer stargazing! With weather warming up, June is a great time of year to enjoy relaxing evenings under starry skies with your telescope or astronomy binoculars.
Here are a few of Orion's top picks for June stargazing:
Saturn's Best and Brightest
Saturn reaches opposition on June 15th, which means the ringed planet will be directly opposite the Sun in the sky as seen from Earth. Since Saturn will rise at sunset and set at sunrise, it's the best night of the year to observe the distant planet. The weeks before and after opposition will also provide great opportunities to see Saturn in a telescope. Use any telescope to see Saturn and its spectacular rings, as well as brighter moons like 8th-magnitude Titan. Larger telescopes and clear, dark skies will help you see the thin gap between Saturn's rings, which is called the Cassini Division.
Don't Miss Jupiter
In early June, gigantic Jupiter will already be high in the sky when the Sun sets. The gas giant planet will sink lower to the west as the days of June pass, so take advantage of its good position and use a telescope to check out Jupiter's vivid cloud bands and bright moons Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Look for Jupiter to the northwest of bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo. On June 3rd and again on June 30th, Jupiter will appear very close to the Moon in the night sky, making a pretty pairing to explore in big astronomy binoculars.
Around 10pm in mid-June, two glorious, face-on spiral galaxies M51 and M101 will both be in a great position for viewing and imaging. Look for M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, to the southwest of the star Alkaid at the end of the Big Dipper's "handle". Scan the sky to the northeast of Alkaid to find M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy. Under very dark skies, these distant galaxies can barely be detected in smaller telescopes, but a 10" or larger reflector will reveal much more impressive views. If you're viewing from an especially dark location, try to resolve the delicate spiral arms of M51 in a 10" or larger telescope.
Summertime Star Party
Take advantage of the New Moon on June 24th and Saturn's great position in the night sky and plan a summer star party! Not only will the dark skies of the moonless night provide great opportunities to see fainter objects more clearly, but the warm June weather will make it easy to enjoy starry sights all night long with friends and family.
Gems of the Summer Triangle
By 10pm in mid-northern latitudes, the Summer Triangle, comprising beacon stars Vega (in Lyra), Deneb (in Cygnus), and Altair (in Aquila), will be fully visible above the horizon. Several celestial gems lie within its confines, including the Ring Nebula (M57), the Dumbbell Nebula (M27), open star cluster M29, and the visually challenging Crescent Nebula (NGC 6888). To catch a glimpse of the elusive Crescent, you'll almost certainly need an Orion Oxygen-III Filter in a larger telescope.
Summer is Globular Season!
Globular star clusters are densely packed balls of stars that are concentrated towards the center of the Milky Way. June skies offer some of the finest globular cluster viewing opportunities. While you can detect most globular clusters in 50mm or larger binoculars, a moderate to high-power eyepiece in a 6"-aperture or larger telescope offers the best chance to resolve individual stars. In the constellation Hercules, look for M92 and the "Great Cluster" M13. In Scorpio, look for M4 and M80. The constellation Ophiuchus is home to six globulars — M10, M12, M14, M107, M9, and M19. Can you spot them all?
The Virgo Cluster
A treasure trove of galaxies can be explored if you point your 6" or larger telescope towards the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Aim your telescope at galaxy M87 in the constellation Virgo and start scanning the surrounding night sky. How many galaxies can you see?
Summer Sky Challenge
Discovered in 1825 by the German astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, NGC 6572 is bright enough to be seen in a humble 60mm refractor telescope from a dark sky site; but it is very, very small! At only 8 arc-seconds in size, it takes a lot of magnification to distinguish this from a star. The easiest way to find it is to look in the target area for a green star. NGC 6572 is one of the most intensely colored objects in the night sky. Some say this is green, some say it is blue; what do you think?
All objects described above can be easily seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.