The June 2017 Night Sky

Welcome to the June night sky. This is the month of the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. It occurs when the Sun reaches its highest point in the daylight sky and, therefore, we have the longest days and shortest nights of the year.

Despite this, there is still plenty to see during the short nights of June. For example, this month has more than a dozen minor meteor showers and many of them are of long duration lasting several nights in succession. So, apart from when the Moon is full, any night in June is a good night for meteors.

Comet 2015 V2 Johnson is at its closest to Earth and on the 5th it will be 120 million kilometres from us. This comet is presently to be seen below the star Arcturus and it is heading south towards the constellation of Virgo that contains the bright white star Spica and the yellowish-coloured gas giant planet Jupiter.

This comet is not quite visible with the unaided eye, but in any good binoculars and a dark sky, it should be seen as a small fuzzy star-like object with a faint tail extending towards the south-east.

Comet Johnson is on a hyperbolic orbit so this is the first and last visit it will make to our solar system. It will do one turn around the Sun and head out into deep space with too much speed ever to return.

On the 3rd the first quarter Moon is close to Jupiter and on the 9th the full Moon is close to the magnificent ringed planet Saturn. On the 15th Saturn comes to opposition and with the ring system tilted fully towards us it will be an amazing sight through a small telescope.

Saturn’s largest moon called Titan is also visible in any small telescope, having been discovered in 1655. This moon is over 5000 kilometres in diameter and has a dense nitrogen-rich atmosphere and liquid hydrocarbons on its surface.

Titan is the only object in the solar system, apart from the Earth, where a human could walk about without a space suit, but you would need a breathing mask as there is no oxygen and the temperature is 160 degrees below zero, so you would have to wrap up rather warmly.

There are in total 53 named moons of Saturn and one of the most interesting is tiny Enceladus just 500 kilometres across that orbits close into the rings of Saturn. This icy moon is warm enough inside to melt the ice and create a subsurface ocean that could hypothetically be home for primitive life.

The moon is first quarter on the 1st, full on the 9th, last quarter on the 17th, and new on June 24.

By Clive Jackson
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Clive Jackson is the Director of the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.
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To see the June Sky Map click on the pdf link below