The month of extremes

news: The month of extremes

WELCOME TO the June night sky. This is the month of extremes, when the days are the longest and the nights are the shortest of the year.

The Summer Solstice is on June 21, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and marks the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. On the morning of the 21st, the sun rises at its most northerly point of the year, passes practically overhead and sets in north-northwest 15 hours later.

The moon, on the night of the 21st to the morning of the 22nd, is full; this can only happen when the moon is directly opposite the sun in the night-time sky. As the sun is at its highest point, it follows that the full moon will be at its lowest and so it will rise in the south-southeast and will pass low in the south at midnight. By coincidence, the moon is at its closest point in its orbit of the earth at that time, so it will appear slightly larger than usual and will loom large and low on mid-summer’s night. An optical illusion happens when the moon is close to the horizon, which makes it look much bigger than it really is, as seeing the moon together with familiar objects of known size fools your eyes.

Just after sunset, around June 24, in the west-northwest, you might just catch a view of planets Venus, Saturn and Mercury very close together just above the horizon. Venus will be, by far, the brightest of the three. This close grouping of planets is fairly rare, but may be difficult to see as it happens in a bright sky.

The giant planet Jupiter is still well visible high in the southwest at sunset in the constellation of Virgo. The four big moons of Jupiter, which were discovered by Galileo in the early years of the 17th century, are easily visible in any small telescope or binoculars. Saturn is still in Gemini, but very low in the west now at sunset.

The moon is new on June 6, first quarter on the 15th, full on the 22nd and last quarter on June 28.