Wayne Wooten: June Skies Of The Gulf Coast

May 31, 2019

For June 2019, the new moon is on June 3, and a thin crescent may be visible with binoculars just left of Mercury in twilight, about 40 minutes after sunset.  The much easier crescent is to the upper left of Mars on June 5.  The first quarter moon is on June 10. The full moon, the Honey Moon, is just north of bright Jupiter at sunset on June 17.  The waning gibbous moon is just left of Saturn on June 19, both rising about 10 p.m.  The summer solstice occurs on June 21 at 10:45 a.m. CDT.  The last quarter moon is on June 25, rising at midnight.

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 beyond our own Milky Way, binoculars are better for spotting specific deep sky objects.  For a detailed map of northern hemisphere skies, about June 30 visit the Sky Maps website and download the map for June 2019; it will have a more extensive calendar, and list of best objects for the naked eyes, binoculars, and scopes on the back of the map. 

This June, Mercury and Mars are visible in NW in Gemini much of the month just after sunset.  The two appear closest on June 18, only .3 degrees apart, with Mercury on top and brighter.  Both are lost in sun’s glare by month’s end.  Venus is likewise behind the Sun all month and invisible. 

Jupiter is well placed for evening observers north of Antares in Ophiuchus.  It was at opposition on June 10, and rising in the SE as twilight falls.  Any small scope will also spot its four Galilean moons.  The Great Red Spot is unusually red now, and should also be spotted among its clouds at 100X with even small scopes. 

This photo by EAAA member Malone Calvert, of Crestview, shows the Great Red Spot just rotating onto the disk.
Credit Malone Calvert

The most beautiful object in the sky is Saturn, which comes to opposition in east pf the  teapot of Sagittarius on July 9.  It is not quite as open as last year.  Look closely for its large moon Titan, and also perhaps for smaller moons Dione, Rhea, and Tethys.  Download the program Stellarium and you can zoom in on the planets to find the layout of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn at any moment.

If you drop south from the bowl of the Big Dipper, Leo the Lion is in the SW.  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” SE 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.  Jupiter lies just east of Spica this July.  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 light years distant. 

To the east, Hercules is well up, with the nice globular cluster M-13 marked on your sky map and visible in binoculars.  The brightest star of the northern hemisphere, Vega (from Carl Sagan’s novel and movie, “Contact”), rises in the NE 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.

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 lightyears 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 binoculars to pick up many clusters in this rich region of our own Cygnus spiral arm rising now in the east.

To the south, Antares is well up at sunset in Scorpius.  Jupiter is the bright planet north of it this June.  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.  Beautiful Saturn now sits well north of the stinger on 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.

Events:

Stargazing at Big Lagoon State Park: Sunset at Big Lagoon State Park east parking lot. June 22, July 27, August 24, September 21, and October 19.

Stargazing at Fort Pickens: Sunset at June 28, July 26, Aug. 30 and Sept. 27. Gazes are set up in the Battery Worth picnic area. Normal park fees apply.

Escambia Amateur Astronomers at Pensacola Beach: Sunset at Gulfside Performance Pavilion. June 7, Aug. 9-10, Sept. 6-7, and Oct. 4-5.

Escambia Amateur Astronomers Monthly Meeting: 7 p.m. June 14. Room 1775 at Pensacola State College. Upcoming dates are July 19, Sept. 13, Oct. 11, Nov. 15 and Dec. 13. For more information, visit www.eaaa.net. To be added to the astro alerts, contact Dr. Wooten at wwooten@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. He and his wife, Merry, have been married since 1980 and they have two sons, Michael and Trevor.