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The Night Sky Tonight: June 23 – July 1

By Mark Wagner

Mark Wagner brings us highlights of what's happening in the sky each night this week. Click on each image to enlarge the view. Happy gazing!

Friday, June 23
It's New Moon. Let's find something fun! M13 is perhaps the greatest globular cluster in northern skies. At magnitude 5.78 it is visible as a glow along the western leg of the Keystone asterism, between star 1 and 2 in the diagram. In larger amateur telescopes, this is a magnificent target, 25,000 light years away. It is comprised of 400,000 stars in a tight ball, 17 arc-minutes in diameter. Nearby for a challenge, the inset shows M13 and little NGC 6207 (3), a small spiral galaxy 55 million light years away, shining at magnitude 12 and only 3 arc-minutes in size. Not enough? Showing very dimly is IC 4617 (4), a spiral galaxy at magnitude 15.2 (you need a bigger scope!) and only 1.2x0.4 arc-minutes in size, at a distance of .... 503 million light years! Good luck.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarBlast II 4.5 Equatorial Reflector Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT10 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Constellation Andromeda

Saturday, June 24
"In the Andromeda constellation is M31, the Andromeda galaxy, which is the major galaxy nearest to us. It is moving toward us at 500,000 kilometers per hour. In about 3 billion years the two galaxies will begin colliding and go on merging for a billion more years in a very complex gravitational pavane. It may be that the black holes at the center of each galaxy will eventually become one."3

Andromeda contains galaxies, open clusters, planetary nebulae, and colorful double stars to explore. Its lucida is Alpha Andromedae (A), the star Alpheratz shining at magnitude 2.06. Bordering constellations are (1) Cassiopeia, (2) Perseus, (3) Triangulum, (4) Pisces, (5) Pegasus and (6) Lacerta.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Star Target Planisphere, 30-50 degree, Orion DeepMap 600 Folding Star Chart

Tomorrow Evening: Eclipse and Occultation of Io

Sunday, June 25
Tonight as the sky darkens, you can watch Jupiter's moon Io occulted by the giant planet, as shown in blue where Io is on the limb, about to disappear. The Great Red Spot (GRS) is about to spin into view on the trailing edge of the planet. If you would like to see Io reappear from eclipse, watch at 12:21 a.m. as shown in the dark side of this image, with Jupiter low in the west. By then the GRS will be crossing the meridian. It is amazing to realize 13 Earths could fit across the diameter of Jupiter, yet it rotates in 9 hours 56 minutes!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion AstroView 90mm Equatorial Refractor Telescope, Orion Shorty 1.25" 2x Barlow Lens

Tomorrow Morning: The Chain of Andromeda

Monday, June 26
Here you can see the two chains that form the constellation Andromeda. If you know the Great Square of Pegasus, Alpheratz is the alpha (A) star of Andromeda forms its northeastern corner. Beta Andromedae is the brightest member of the lower (eastern) chain of the constellation, a bright orange star. This morning's view is especially nice with the Great Square and Andromeda's chains over the pairing of Venus and the Pleiades.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Star Target Planisphere, 30-50 degree, Orion DeepMap 600 Folding Star Chart

Tomorrow Evening: Tight Double Star Zeta Herculis

Tuesday, June 27
65 Herculis (Delta Herculis) is the star Sarin. Easily identifiable shining at magnitude 3.09 at a bend in the constellation's stick figure it is a close neighbor of ours 78 light years distant. It is an optical double star (not a binary) with components at magnitude 3.12 for the white primary and the bluish-purple companion at 8.3, separated by 12.7 arc-seconds.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SpaceProbe 130 EQ Reflector Telescope, Orion Observer 70mm Equatorial Refractor Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: M31, The Andromeda Galaxy

Wednesday, June 28
Naked eye, in binoculars, or in a telescope, it's always great to see the Andromeda Galaxy. Also known as Messier 31, this bright spiral galaxy is our nearest large galactic neighbor, residing more than 2 million light years away, and approaching our galaxy on a collision course. From a dark sky in binoculars or a telescope you can trace the galaxy's extended spiral shape over roughly 2.5 degrees of sky, equal to five Full Moons wide. Through a telescope, you can see two dust lanes in the spiral arms closest to us, and a cloud of hot blue supergiant stars. Around M31 are two nearby satellite galaxies, also Messier objects, M32, which is a small bright elliptical galaxy, and M110, much dimmer, larger and diffuse. Across the sky at greater distances are at least 12 other satellite galaxies to M31. We in the Milky Way Galaxy are part of this large galactic family, known as the Local Group. Find M31 by sweeping up from Venus past beta (B) Andromedae, then arcing past the next star up in the chain.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion UltraView 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars, Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Moon Targets

Thursday, June 29
Tonight's 6.5-day-old waxing crescent Moon presents two great targets; Posidonius (1) and Theophilus (2). Posidonius sits on the northeastern shore of Mare Serenitatis and is good in a 50mm instrument. It is 58 miles in diameter, contains numerous craterlets on a flat floor, broken by Rimae Posidonius (requiring high power). Theophilus is a 61-mile diameter crater that presents good views in a 10x pair of binoculars. Its slopes are tormented and steep, inner walls are high and terraced. The 1,400 meter high central mountain has four peaks, with a flat floor broken by crests of hills and craterlets. If you look at the Moon tonight, tell us what your favorite sights were.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Scenix 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars, Orion StarMax 90mm TableTop Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: The Blue Snowball

Friday, June 30
NGC 7662 is known as the Blue Snowball, a bright electric blue planetary nebula that emits radiation particularly well in the Oxygen III wavelengths. If you have a narrow band filter, get it out for this target. This is a planetary nebula, a dying star. As it contracts, the star throws off shells of gas. The contracting core of the star heats up and illuminates the gas shells with radiation. Here you can see in the sketch the inner bright rings of gas, in a broken oblong shape. The dimmer outer shell is much more difficult to observe, requiring larger telescopes and dark skies. It's a healthy sized planetary at 2.2 arc-minutes, and is quite bright at magnitude 9.0 at 1,800 light years distance. In a relatively empty part of sky, can anyone suggest an easy star hop to it?

Skill Level: Intermediate

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope, 1.25" Orion UltraBlock NarrowBand Filter

Tomorrow Evening: Bright Stars and Solar System

Saturday, July 1
July is here and it's prime time weather-wise for northern hemisphere astronomy enthusiasts! Tonight, get the kids out and show them a few bright stars and solar system objects with your Orion Green Laser Pointer, they'll love it. The Moon and Jupiter are close together over the southwestern horizon. The Moon is waxing gibbous (greater than half and getting larger) just past first quarter phase, 393,709 km from us. Jupiter sits 9.5 degrees to its west, the next brightest object in the sky after the Moon and 5.3 A.U. away (eh you, what's an A.U.?). Under the Moon is blue-white Spica, the brightest star in Virgo at magnitude 0.96, 26 light years away (and featured in the movie Contact). Above the Moon is bright Arcturus, a magnitude -0.5 red giant star 37 light years distant. Both stars are bright neighbors of our rather non-descript Sun, in the same section of the same arm of our Milky Way Galaxy. To the Moon's east are Antares and Saturn, both creamy golden red in tone. Antares is 604 years away and shines at magnitude 1.04, so it has to be intrinsically brilliant. Saturn is rising, at magnitude 0.0, and 9 A.U. from us. All a great sight on a great night!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyLine Deluxe Green Laser Pointer, Orion Star Target Planisphere, 30-50 degree

Tomorrow Morning: Deep Sky In Andromeda.

Charts from Starry Night Pro, available from Orion Telescopes & Binoculars. Other data from Starry Night Pro 6 and Wikipedia. M13, M31 and NGC 7662 sketches courtesy Jeremy Perez Belt Of Venus blog. 65 Herculis sketch from Star-Splitters Blog. Lunar images courtesy Robert Reeves..

Mark Wagner is a life-long astronomy enthusiast and deep sky observer in the San Francisco bay area. Visit our Facebook Page if you'd like to post comments, questions, sketches or images you've taken to our Night Sky Tonight post.