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The Sky This Week for June 23 to July 2

The Boötid meteor shower, Jupiter halfway to zenith, and other cool things to look for in the sky this week.
Big_Dipper_Orangefloyd
Orange Floyd via WikiMedia Commons

Friday, June 23

New Moon occurs at 10:31 p.m. EDT. At its New phase, the Moon crosses the sky with the Sun and so remains hidden by our star. Because the Moon also reaches perigee, the closest point in its orbit around Earth, today (at 6:52 a.m. EDT), residents in coastal areas can expect higher than normal tides for the next few days. At perigee, the center of the Moon lies 222,412 miles (357,937 kilometers) from Earth’s center.

Saturday, June 24

Jupiter appears nearly halfway to the zenith in the southwestern sky during twilight this week and doesn’t set until after 1 a.m. local daylight time. The brilliant planet shines at magnitude –2.1 and dominates the evening sky. It appears nearly stationary against the background stars of Virgo, some 11° northwest of the Maiden’s brightest star, 1st-magnitude Spica. When viewed through a telescope, Jupiter’s disk spans 38" and shows a wealth of atmospheric detail.

Sunday, June 25

Look high in the northwest after darkness falls this month, and you’ll be greeted by the familiar sight of the Big Dipper. The Dipper is the most conspicuous asterism — a recognizable pattern of stars that doesn’t form a complete constellation shape — in the entire sky. It forms the body and tail of Ursa Major the Great Bear. Use the Pointers, the two stars at the end of the Dipper’s bowl, to find Polaris, which lies due north for everyone north of the equator. Polaris marks the end of the Little Dipper’s handle. On June evenings, the relatively faint stars of this dipper arc directly above Polaris.

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NASA/JPL

Monday, June 26

Observers of the outer solar system get their first good views of Uranus before dawn during June. The best time to look for this planet is shortly before twilight begins around 3:30 a.m. local daylight time. Uranus then lies 20° high in the east among the background stars of Pisces the Fish. This morning, use binoculars to find the magnitude 5.8 planet 1° north and a touch west of 4th-magnitude Omicron (o) Piscium. A telescope reveals Uranus’ blue-green disk, which spans 3.5".

Tuesday, June 27

The typically minor June Boötid meteor shower occasionally reminds us of its presence. After decades of inactivity, the shower produced up to 100 meteors per hour in 1998. It then returned with about half that number in 2004. Although astronomers aren’t predicting an outburst this year, veteran observers know that the only way to be sure is to actually watch the sky. The shower peaks before dawn today, and conditions should be ideal with the waxing crescent Moon setting well before midnight. The meteors appear to radiate from a point, called the radiant, located in the northern part of the constellation Boötes the Herdsman. This region remains above the horizon all night.

The waxing crescent Moon lies just a degree or two from 1st-magnitude Regulus this evening. The two appear closest from the East Coast; the separation grows the farther west you live.

Wednesday, June 28

For people who live near 35° north latitude, today marks the latest sunset of the year. Although Earth’s summer solstice and the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day occurred last week (June 20/21), latest sunset happens several days after and earliest sunrise several days before. The specific dates depend on your latitude, however — latest sunset at 40° north took place yesterday. In general, latest sunset occurs closer to the solstice the farther north you live.

Thursday, June 29

Magnificent Saturn reached its peak just two weeks ago, when it appeared opposite the Sun in the sky, and our view of the ringed planet remains spectacular. It is on display nearly all night among the background stars of southern Ophiuchus, hanging in the southeastern sky as darkness falls and climbing high in the south by midnight local daylight time. Saturn continues to shine brightly, too, at magnitude 0.1. When viewed through a telescope, the dramatic ring system spans 42" and tilts 27° to our line of sight, while the planet’s family of moderately bright moons appears next to the gorgeous world.

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NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

Friday, June 30

First Quarter Moon arrives at 8:51 p.m. EDT. You can find the half-lit orb in the southwestern sky as darkness falls and then watch it sink toward the western horizon throughout the evening hours. It sets around 1 a.m. local daylight time. The Moon lies in central Virgo, just a few degrees to the right of brilliant Jupiter.

Saturday, July 1

Tonight affords viewers a nice opportunity to track down Pluto. The distant world passes just 4' due north of the 8th-magnitude star SAO 187934 in northeastern Sagittarius, making the task of finding the dwarf planet much easier than usual. (This star, in turn, lies 2° east-southeast of 3rd-magnitude Pi [p] Sagittarii.) Pluto glows dimly at 14th magnitude, so you’ll need an 8-inch or larger telescope to spot it visually. See “In pursuit of Pluto” in the July Astronomy for complete details on finding this world.

Sunday, July 2

Although Venus reached its greatest elongation from the Sun a month ago, it now rises earlier and climbs higher in the east before dawn. It rises at 3 a.m. local daylight time and stands 18° above the horizon an hour before sunrise. It’s hard to mistake the inner planet for anything else — at magnitude –4.2, it shines brighter than any other point of light in the sky. When viewed through a telescope, Venus shows a 18"-diameter disk that appears 63 percent lit.

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