June 2017 Menu

Astro for June

“Uncle Bob”

Sky Highlights for June

A Hat Dance and a Grab for the Rings

For the first half of the month the Moon is very bright in the south. On June 3, it comes very close to planet Jupiter. Can you see both objects? If you are having trouble, then use your hand or a piece of card to screen out the Moon which is slightly higher up than Jupiter. Also you should note that nearby to the lower left is the milk-white star Spica in constellation Virgo. Make careful note of these positions because later in the month the Moon will be out of the picture, and, with a dark sky, you’ll have a chance to see the Sombrero Galaxy.

A second planet will begin to dominate the night sky for several months. Saturn is at opposition, meaning that it will be up there all night long. Look for it in the east just after dark, and straight up in the south at midnight. Saturn’s rings are very near their maximum tilt at 26.5 degrees from our vantage. Even a very small telescope should present them plainly. With a bigger scope or a very good pair of binoculars, you might be able to see divisions among the rings. The major gap is named Cassini, for the one who first spotted it. Our Cassini spacecraft, flying for the past 13 years within the Saturn system of rings and moons, is due to fly among those rings before it makes a mission-ending plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere. We hope to learn much from its final measurements.


You will probably need a telescope to see the Sombrero. Galaxies are all incredibly far away and very faint. The Sombrero (M104) is, however, one of the brightest, and I’ll help you to know where to look.

Recall the spot where you saw Jupiter and Spica earlier in the month. Sombrero will complete a triangle with them. M104 on the sky map above is marked with an "x" . Triangles can have all kinds of shapes, so we need a surer formula for the location. The box of four stars in Corvus, the Crow, to the lower right can direct you to Sombrero. Just follow its diagonal from the lower right corner to upper left and continue on north for almost that distance again. If you find it you’ll be treated to an iconic sight. The bright center and dark outer dust lanes do give the impression of a broad-brimmed hat.

Of course, we have solstice this month on the night of June 20-21, and so the really dark hours are limited. You’ll need to be a bit of a night owl to see any deep sky objects, but Saturn’s rings and the Sombrero are sights that will be with you forever.

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