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June skies of the Gulf Coast

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Brent Knight
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Brent Knight captured this image with his 9.25” SCT. Few objects in the sky can compare with this glorious ball of stars in any telescope 6” or larger. This ball of almost a million older stars lies about 25,000 light-years away, in the halo of our Milky Way Galaxy, almost directly above the Galactic Center in Sagittarius.

For June 2022, the waxing crescent moon passes just south of the Gemini on June 2. The moon is first quarter on June 7, and the Full Moon, the Honey Moon, is on June 14. The waning gibbous moon is below Saturn on the morning of June 18. The last quarter moon passes below Jupiter on June 21. On June 22, the waning crescent moon passes below Mars in the dawn, and the slender crescent sits just to the left of Venus in the dawn on June 26, a great photo op 45 minutes before sunrise. Then it passes Mercury (best to use binoculars in dawn) on June 27. The new moon is June 28. The slender crescent again sits south of the Gemini on the northwest horizon after sunset on June 30. This return of the moon to the same place among the stars is defined as the “sidereal” month, and as we see here, it takes 27.3 days.

While the naked eye, dark-adapted by several minutes away from any bright lights, is a wonderful instrument to stare up into deep space, far bed our own Milky Way, binoculars are better for spotting specific deep sky objects. For a detailed map of the northern hemisphere, Sky Maps.

This June, Mercury lies between us and the sun until midmonth, when it moves into the dawn sky just to the lower left of brilliant Venus in the dawn. The best grouping comes when the waning crescent moon joins the pair on June 26-27. Venus is heading behind the Sun soon and rises lower in the dawn sky each morning. By year's end, it will pass behind the Sun and back into the evening skies.

The Big Dipper is almost overhead as twilight falls, and its pointers take you north to the Pole Star. If you drop south from the bowl of the Big Dipper, Leo the Lion is in the southwest. Note the Egyptian Sphinx is based on the shape of this Lion in the sky. Taking the arc in the Dipper’s handle, we “arc” southeast to bright orange Arcturus, the brightest star of Spring. Cooler than our yellow Sun, and much poorer in heavy elements, some believe its strange motion reveals it to be an invading star from another smaller galaxy, now colliding with the Milky Way in Sagittarius in the summer sky. Moving almost perpendicular to the plane of our Milky Way, Arcturus was the first star in the sky where its proper motion. Even farther south, on June evenings we can spot the top three stars of Crux, the Southern Cross, just above the waves of the Gulf on clear, calm nights.

The brightest star of the northern hemisphere, Vega (from Carl Sagan’s novel and movie, “Contact”), rises in the northeast as twilight deepens. Twice as hot as our Sun, it appears blue-white, like most bright stars. At the opposite end of the parallelogram of Lyra is M-57, the Ring Nebula. It is visible with large binoculars but does not show its fine colors and faint central white dwarf until you get to some big deep sky scopes.

Northeast of Lyra is Cygnus, the Swan, flying down the Milky Way. Its bright star Deneb, at the top of the “northern cross” is one of the luminaries of the Galaxy, about 50,000 times more luminous than our Sun and around 3,000 light-years distant. Under dark skies, note the “Great Rift,” a dark nebula in front of our solar system as we revolve around the core of the Milky Way in the Galactic Year of 250 million of our own years.

To the east, Altair is the third bright star of the summer triangle. It lies in Aquila the Eagle and is much closer than Deneb. It lies within about 13 light-years of our Sun. Use your binocs to pick up many clusters in this rich region of our own Cygnus spiral arm rising now in the east. The nearest spiral arms of our Milky Way are now on the eastern horizon and may be mistaken for a cloud rising if you are not used to the transparency of rural skies. They arc overhead in the morning hours for restless campers.

To the south, Antares is well up at sunset in Scorpius. It appears reddish (its Greek name means rival of Ares or Mars to the Latins) because it is half as hot as our yellow Sun. It is bright because it is a bloated red supergiant, big enough to swallow up our solar system all the way out to Saturn’s orbit! Scorpius is the brightest constellation in the sky, with 13 stars brighter than the pole star Polaris.

The Escambia Amateur Astronomers return to Casino Beach for our Pavilion Stargaze Season on the first quarter moon. Meet us south of the famed Beach Ball Water Tower and bring your smartphone to image the Sun (before sunset with our solar scopes), Moon, and constellations. We have free star charts and will show you what’s up. The gazes, if clear skies permit, will be on Fridays and Saturdays June 3 and 4, (none in July due to Blue Angel Crowds), August 5 and 6, September 2 and 3, and the last on September 20 and October 1.

For deep skies with much less light pollution, on the weekends of the third-quarter moon, we continue our cooperation with the Florida State Parks at Big Lagoon State Park. Here the emphasis is on learning to observe and photograph the night sky with binoculars or your own telescopes and smartphones or other cameras. While the Pavilion parking is free, normal entry fees to Big Lagoon still apply. Our gazes for best imaging of the Milky Way, constellations, and other galaxies are on these weekends: June 17 and 18, July 22 and 23, August 19 and 20, September 16 and 17, and October 14 and 5. Clear skies permitting!

For Okaloosa and Walton Counties, the Northwest Florida Amateur Astronomers will also host public gazes this summer at a variety of venues. On June 18, they are at Henderson Beach. On July 2, back to Top Sail Hill.

For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers, join us on Facebook or call our sponsor, Lauren Rogers at Pensacola State at 484-1155 or lrogers@pensacolastate.edu.

Dr. John Wayne Wooten has been teaching science since 1970, with a special concentration on astronomy. He received his Doctor of Education in Astronomy from University of Florida in 1979. He was an educator at Pensacola State College since 1974 and University of West Florida since 1984 before retiring in 2017. He still continues to teach distance learning astronomy for Tennessee colleges.