By Clive Jackson [email protected]
Clive Jackson is the Director of the Astronomical Observatory of Tavira (Sitio do Malhão, Tavira) and the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.
Welcome to the June night sky. This is the month that has the shortest nights and the longest days of the year.
All this is due to the simple fact that the Sun is at its highest point in the day time sky as seen from our view point in the northern atmosphere.
This year it happens on June 21 and it is often called mid-summer’s day, although officially it is the end of spring and the start of the summer.
Soon after dark, high up in the south, in the constellation of Virgo we can see the ringed planet Saturn.
This planet will set over in the west at around 2 am local time and in June Saturn is to be seen just to the left of the bright star Spica.
This star is sparkling white in colour and this contrasts with pale yellow hue of Saturn.
Also, a good aid to its identification is that stars twinkle and planets usually don’t. The rings of Saturn are well visible with any small telescope along with Saturn’s largest Moon Titan.
The Titan moon is even visible with binoculars as it slowly circles the planet every 16 days.
Titan is over 5,000 kilometers in diameter and its dense nitrogen atmosphere means that you could walk on the surface without a space suit.
This is the only other place in the solar system where this is possible apart from the Earth. You will still need a breathing mask as there is no oxygen and it is 180ºC below zero.
So wrap up well. Due to the thick atmosphere and low gravity of Titan you could flap a pair of homemade wings fixed to your arms and actually take off. Vigorous flapping may also help to keep you warm!
The full Moon in June is on the 15th, and at this time the Moon rises on one horizon exactly at the same time as the Sun sets over on the opposite horizon.
In this month something special happens as the Moon enters into an eclipse exactly at Moon rise. What you will see is over on the southeastern horizon a glowing red Moon instead of the normal light gray colour, and as the Moon rises higher it will get even darker red and may disappear completely at maximum eclipse at about 10.30 pm.
By midnight the show is over and the Moon leaves the shadow of the Earth and once again shines brightly in the southern sky.
The Moon is new on the 1st, first quarter on the 9th, full on the 15th and last quarter on the 23rd of June.
Clive Jackson can be contacted on Tel 281 322 527, Fax 281 321 754, Email: [email protected] or visit www.cdepa.pt.