Wayne Wooten: June Skies Of The Gulf Coast

Jun 4, 2020

Omega is the largest such cluster known associated with our Milky Way Galaxy, and is probably itself the core of a small elliptical galaxy that has been stripped of most of its outlying stars in many passes through the plane of our barred spiral.
Credit EAAA Member Scott Gottilla

For June 2020, the Full Moon, the Honey Moon, occurs on June 5.  The waning gibbous moon passes below Jupiter in the dawn sky on June 8, and Saturn on the 9th. The last quarter moon and brightening Mars rise about midnight on June 13.  The most spectacular conjunction of June is the very thin waning crescent moon joining newly visible Venus (also a slender crescent in binocs!) in the dawn on June 19. The moon is new on June 20, in parts of Africa and Asia, this is a annular solar eclipse, but it will all be over for us by sunrise. The first quarter moon is on June 28.

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, visit skymaps.com

This June Mercury is visible in the northwest twilight for the first week. Mars comes to a historically close opposition this fall, and is already bright red and easy to spot in the dawn in Aquarius.  On June 13, it passes 1.6 degrees below tiny, distant blue Neptune with binoculars for early risers.  For perspective, remember Mars is half the size of Earth, and Neptune four times larger, but over 100X more distant!

We are overtaking Jupiter and Saturn now, and both come to opposition at sunset in July.  With binoculars, the four large Galilean moons of Jupiter are visible in a row around Jupiter’s equator.  Larger scopes will see the famed Great Red Spot is still evident in the belts and zones.  Saturn’s rings are slowly closing, but still put on a fine show.  Its large moon Titan is also visible even in 60mm refractors at 30X.  By month’s end, both are rising within two hours of sunset in the southeast. Download the program Stellarium at stellarium.org 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 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.  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. 

Directly below Corvus on the southern June horizon is Crux, the Southern Cross.  From West Florida, only its top star, gamma Crucis, is visible, but in Miami, the “Southern Cross Astronomical Society” boasts of their more southern latitude and their ability to see the whole cross.  Directly above the Cross and easily visible from the Gulf coast is the largest and brightest globular cluster, omega Centauri. It appears as a round, fourth magnitude blur with the naked eyes under dark skies, and is easily mistaken for a new comet, without growing a tail yet.  

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. At the opposite end of the parallelogram of Lyra is M-57, the Ring Nebula.

Merry Edenton-Wooten took this photo of the Halley Comet in April 1986 on the famed “Love Boat” for Princess Lines. As the ship rocked, their gaze fell downward from the comet to the similarly round and bright and fuzzy globular cluster, so we heard, “Oh, I found one!” as excited passengers saw the cluster come into view a few degrees south of Halley.
Credit Merry Edenton-Wooten

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.

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. 

Our next gazes are on hold due to social distancing with Covid-19. For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers, visit our website, join us on Facebook at “Escambia Amateur Astronomers” or call our sponsor, Lauren Rogers at Pensacola State College at 484-1155, or e-mail her at the college at lrogers@pensacolastate.edu.