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June skies of the Gulf Coast

Ed Magowan’s capture of the Northern Lights in Chumuckla.
Ed Magowan
Ed Magowan’s capture of the Northern Lights in Chumuckla.

For June 2024, the waning crescent moon passes Mars in the dawn on June 3. It is a new moon on June 6. The first quarter moon is on June 14. Summer begins with the Summer Solstice at 3:51 p.m. on June 20, 2024, the longest day of the year. We get about 14 hours of daylight now. The Full Moon, the Honey Moon, is the following evening. The last quarter moon is June 28 and lies just east of Saturn in the morning sky. A striking planetary alignment of the waning crescent with Mars and Jupiter to the lower left of it occurs an hour before sunset on June 30th; a great photo op for early risers.

For a detailed map of northern hemisphere skies, visit skymaps.com website and download the map for the northern hemisphere skies in June.
This June, Mercury lies behind the Sun emerging in the evening sky low in the southwest at the very end of the month. Venus also is on the far side, and will not return to dusk until in July. As mentioned above, Mars is in the dawn now, and will not get close enough to us to be a good scope target for several more months. Jupiter returns to the dawn skies by months-end, to the lower left of Mars on June 30. Even Saturn in Aquarius waits until almost midnight to rise in the southeast. No bright planets in the evening skies now.

Of course, the huge news last month as the return of the Northern Lights to Dixie Skies on May 10, my 76th birthday….what a fireworks display! The cause was several X-class flares from huge sunspot group AR 3664, imaged below with my See Star on May , when it faced us and sent out the biggest Coronal Mass Ejections (CME).

A view of the sunspot groups that caused the Northern Lights display.
Wayne Wooten
A view of the sunspot groups that caused the Northern Lights display.

As captured with his Canon 6D DSLR and 14mm lens in ten seconds, Ed Magowan’s drive to the dark skies of Chumuckla was rewarded with that extra point! Many smartphones in night mode also returned thousands of fine shots of the colors, rays, and minute-by-minute changes dancing above our heads. We observed this “picket fence pattern from Pensacola airport minutes later, and it marched south to arrive over Key West an hour later! The red glow was seen in all 50 states (yes, even Hawaii and Puerto Rico!) Alas, it was just for Friday night. By Saturday, the spots were rotating over the western limb of the sun, and activity died down. Fun while it lasted. Check out the beautiful gallery on our Facebook group, or on spaceweather.comgalleries.

RELATED:Locals capture the Northern Lights

 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 across the historic sky was noted, by Edmund Halley.

Spike south to Spica, the hot blue star in Virgo, then curve to Corvus the Crow, a four-sided grouping. North of Corvus, in the arms of Virgo, is where our large scopes will show members of the Virgo Supercluster, a swarm of over a thousand galaxies about 50 million lightyears distant.

To the east, Hercules is well up, with the nice globular cluster M-13 marked on your sky map and visible in binocs. 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. They are bright because they are hot, even though on the main sequence, fusing hydrogen like our Sun, they are only a little larger than our home star.

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 lightyears 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! Note the fine naked eye clusters M-6 and M-7, just to the left of the Scorpion’s tail.

Just a little east of the Scorpion’s tail is the teapot shape of Sagittarius, which lies toward the center of the Milky Way. From a dark sky site, you can pick out the fine stellar nursery, M-8, the Lagoon Nebula, like a cloud of steam coming out of the teapot’s spout.

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 Fridays and Saturdays June 14-15, none in July, August 16-17, September 13-14and ending on October 12-13. If possible, download the Unistellar and Nocturne apps for your smartphones to capture live images with our WiFi enabled eVscopes. We can have up to ten “observers” sharing the images of these amazing new systems. For deep skies with much less light pollution, on the Saturdays of the third quarter moon, we continue our cooperation with the Florida State Parks at Big Lagoon State Park. While the Pavilion parking is free, normal entry fees to Big Lagoon ($6 per car) still apply, and remember to check in the front gate before it closes at sunset. Our gazes for best imaging of the Milky Way, constellations, and other galaxies are on these Saturdays: June 1, June 29, July 19, August 24, September 21, and October 28.

Evening planetarium shows return to Pensacola State College’s Space and Science Theatre at 6 p.m. on Friday evening, June 7, with “The Night of the Titanic”. Tickets at: https://a.purplepass.com/events/287901-06-07-24-night-of-the-titanic-planetarium-show-jun-7th-2024. Clear skies permitting, a solar observing session and star gaze will follow.

Our next club meeting will be at 7 p.m. on June 28 in room 1704 at Pensacola State College (building right across from Steak and Shake in Cordova Mall). Our upcoming meetings will be on July 19, (August break), September 20, and October 18. The programs will be announced in advance on our Facebook and website.

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.