It’s wonderful to have the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, back in the evening sky again. They can be found opposite each other - Venus is low in the west at sunset as it follows the setting Sun, while Jupiter is rising over in the east.
Later in the evening, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars can be found in a long line above the eastern horizon. By morning, they are stretched out above the western horizon.
At the end of the month, Saturn reaches opposition, which is when we see it at its best and brightest. While Mercury returns to the evening sky low to the western horizon.
|Last Quarter||Thu 7th|
|New Moon||Thu 14th|
|First Quarter||Wed 20th|
|Full Moon||Thu 28th|
The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Sunday 3rd and Saturday 30th, at distances of 405,3014 km and 406,059 km, respectively.
The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Friday 15th, at a distance of 359,506 km.
The Moon can be used as a pointer to find other objects in the sky.
Mercury emerges from the glow of evening twilight during the last week of the month. It can be found low in the west just after sunset, sitting below bright Venus.
Venus is stunning in the north-west after sunset. It passes by the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux. At the start of the month, they are to the right of Venus and they move below Venus by mid-month. The crescent Moon sits to the left of Venus on the 16th. By the end of the month, Mercury appears below Venus and the star Regulus (Leo, the lion) sits above Venus.
Earth experiences the Winter Solstice on Thursday 21st. At 8:07pm, the Sun has reached its furthest north for the year and begins moving southward (as viewed from Earth). From Melbourne, the Sun travels low across the sky and it is our shortest day, with just 9 hours and 32 minutes of daylight.
Mars rises a few hours after sunset, joining Jupiter and Saturn in the eastern sky. The Moon is alongside Mars on the 3rd and 30th.
Jupiter shines brightly high in the east after sunset, making a lovely pairing with Venus over in the north-west. The Moon joins Jupiter on the nights of the 23rd and 24th.
Saturn reaches opposition on the 27th, rising as the Sun sets and setting at sunrise. Since the planet is opposite the Sun, it also makes its closest approach to Earth, shining a little brighter than usual. On the 28th, the Full Moon (which is also in opposition) rises with Saturn at sunset.
There are a number of meteor showers occurring in Scorpius and Sagittarius this month. Although low in number (less than 10 per hour) the shower members can often be spectacular, appearing slow and bright with many displaying a yellow/orange colour. The best time to see meteors is after midnight.
Low in the west we have our last look at Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Its constellation of Canis Major (the great dog) will soon disappear from our sky for the winter.
Above and to the south of Sirius is the second brightest star in the night sky, Canopus in Carina (the keel). Looking further south and low to the horizon you may be able to identify the bright star Achernar in Eridanus (the river) at its lowest point in the sky. Directly above Achernar, the Southern Cross reaches its highest point and remains there majestically during the winter months.
Looking eastward, the bright red star Antares, in the constellation of Scorpius (the scorpion), can be seen. Below it lies the teapot shape of Sagittarius (the archer). The region around Sagittarius is a rich area of the sky to explore with binoculars. It points towards the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy, which lies 26 000 light years away and contains a supermassive black hole.
From Earth, the ISS appears as a bright star that steadily moves across the sky. It can often be seen from Melbourne, for example at:
6:17am – 6:22am, Thursday 14th June.
The Station will appear in the south-west above the Two Pointers and travel past Achernar (Eridanus, the river) before disappearing in the north-east.
Predictions of when to see the ISS can be obtained from the Heaven's Above website.
1st 2002, the Czech Republic becomes the first country to ban light pollution.
1st 2008, the Phoenix Mars Lander was the first spacecraft to scoop Martian soil.
6th 1971, Soyuz 11 (USSR) was launched. It carried the first people to a space station (Soviet Salyut 1).
10th 2003, the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit (USA) was launched.
11th 1985, a balloon (from Vega 1, USSR) is used to explore another planet, Venus.
13th 2010, the Hayabusa (Japan) spacecraft returned the first asteroid samples to Earth.
14th 1965, Mariner 4 (USA) returns the first close-up images of Mars.
15th 1999, a near-miss for the International Space Station as space debris passes just 7 km from the station.
16th 1963, Valentina V. Tereshkova (USSR) launched on Vostok 6 becomes the first woman in space.
18th 1983, Sally Ride is the first US woman in space (on the space shuttle Challenger).
20th 1939, Germany launches the first liquid-fuel rocket plane.
21st 2004, SpaceShipOne (USA) launched to become the first privately-funded human space flight.
22nd 1978, Dr James W. Christy (USA) discovers Pluto’s satellite Charon.
30th 1971, the Soyuz 11 (USSR) three-man crew die upon re-entry to Earth.
30th 1908, a meteor explodes over Tunguska, Russia, destroying 2,200 km² of forest.
Banner image: Changing seasons of Saturn. NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)Acknowledgment: R.G. French (Wellesley College), J. Cuzzi (NASA/Ames), L. Dones (SwRI), and J. Lissauer (NASA/Ames)