Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report: June 15-21

Stock image | Pixabay, St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH The weekly Sky Report alerts people to what they can see in the night sky by simply stepping outdoors and looking up, perhaps only with a pair of binoculars.

The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, which provides observational experiences for people to enjoy, appreciate and comprehend what we can see in our starry night skies.

Venus returns

Regular sky observers will recall that Venus dominated the evening sky all winter until it disappeared only three weeks ago. Then it moved between the earth and sun and was invisible. Now it’s returning to view, this time in the morning sky, and you can see it before sunrise. Look for Venus as the “Morning Star” just before 6 a.m. — just before sunrise — when it will be very low in the east-northeast.

You’ll see it only because it’s so bright, and even then it won’t be easy to spot. You will need a low horizon that is not blocked by trees and hills.

Graphic courtesy of the National Weather Service, St. George News

On the morning of Thursday, June 18, the slim crescent moon is to the upper right of Venus, and on the following morning the slimmer crescent moon is closer to Venus and to the lower left of it, but you’ll need binoculars to see the moon when it is such a thin sliver.

Venus rises earlier each morning and it will be easily visible in a month, so the challenge is to find how early in the month you can first see it, and the prize is the satisfaction of finding it. Venus remains in the morning sky until early next year.

Early risers

Rising hours earlier than Venus are Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, in that order, from west to east. Jupiter and Saturn rise together by midnight, and then you’ll see them low in the southeast. As the earth rotates eastward the planets move westward, and at 4 a.m. they’re at their highest, a third of the way up the southern sky.

Jupiter is the brightest thing in the night sky, other than the moon, and Saturn is as bright as the brightest stars and is immediately to the left of Jupiter. These two giant planets remain close together all year, Jupiter is in Sagittarius and Saturn is across the border in Capricornus.

Mars trails the two giants, rising at 2 a.m. Mars is slightly brighter than Saturn and is brighter than any star, so it too is unmistakable as it shines among the faint stars of Aquarius. Mars is presently about 85 million miles from earth but it’s growing closer day by day as the earth catches up to it on an inside orbit, and in October it will be only half as distant, so over the next four months you can watch Mars grow brighter as we approach it.

Summer solstice

Sunday, June 20, is the summer solstice — the first day of summer. This day marks the sun’s northernmost rising and setting points and it’s the longest day (14 hours 37 minutes in Kanab) with the earliest sunrise and latest sunset.

We have seasons because our earth is tilted in our orbit around the sun, so from different parts of our orbit the sun is alternately high in the sky and low in the sky. At the summer solstice the sun makes it’s longest and highest daily track across the sky, reaching a maximum altitude of 76° above the southern horizon from Kanab at local noon ,which is actually 1:28 p.m. because of Daylight Saving Time.

The precise moment of the solstice is 9:41 p.m. MDT.

The weekly Sky Report is written by John Mosley, a retired astronomer who lives in Ivins. Mosley was Program Supervisor at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes.” He and his wife retired to St. George where he continues to stargaze from his backyard while he serves on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.

Send questions and comments to John@StargazingAdventures.org.

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