What's in the Sky - June 2020
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:
Solar System Trio
Rising in the southeast on June 7th and 8th, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon are well placed for observing, with 5 degrees of separation between Jupiter and Saturn. On the 7th the Moon approaches Jupiter with a separation of 6 degrees, and on the 8th it is 4.5 degrees away from Saturn. They will rise around 11pm, and reach their highest point in the sky around 4am, providing ample observing time. Grab a planetary guide set to identify surface details, or a Barlow lens for high magnification viewing!
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" or larger telescope offers the best chance to resolve individual stars. In the constellation Hercules, look for M92 and the "Great Cluster" M13. In Scorpius, 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?
Take advantage of the New Moon on June 20th and the galaxies and globular clusters visible for a great Staycation at home! 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. The New Moon also brings an annular solar eclipse, but this is only visible from parts of Africa and Asia.
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.
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 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 easily be 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.