Skywatchers Guide

Skywatcher's Guides

Flandrau’s Observatory is operated entirely by volunteers. Please call ahead to see if the observatory is open (generally Thurs-Sat 7pm – 10pm). Our astronomer volunteers will help you experience the 16-inch telescope as well as answer your questions about the night sky.

Written by: Lucas Snyder (Flandrau Planetarium Operator)
Images contributed by: Tim Van DevenderAlistair Symon (Flandrau Telescope Operators), Nine Planets, and Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS)

Navigationphoto by Tim Van Devender

 

Stars and Constellations

In June, the spring sky is now prominent overhead, along with the familiar Big Dipper.  The Big Dipper is high in the north, and the two stars at the end of the bowl can be used to find Polaris, our north star.  Also, the handle can be used to "arc to Arcturus", a bright star in the constellation Boötes. Then Hercules is just below towards the east.  Next, Leo the lion is very high in the west, with the constellation Virgo nearby to the south.  A few winter constellations are still visible, now vert low in the west.  Castor and Pollux, the heads of Gemini the twins, are the most prominent, to the west-northwest.  The summer sky is now just starting to come up at the beginning of the night.  The bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra the harp is towards the east-northeast.  In the southeast we have the constellation Scorpius the scorpion, with the bright star Antares.  Further to the south we can also see the constellations of Centaurus and Lupus the wolf right along the horizon.

 

In July, the last of the winter constellations are now gone, and the spring constellations are beginning to head to the west.  The summer constellations are now mostly up in the east.  We can easily see all three stars in the Summer Triangle, Vega being the highest in the east-northeast, Deneb a little lower to the northeast, and Altair to the east.  To the southeast we can see the Teapot of Sagittarius near the tail of Scorpius.  Also, to the north-northeast we can see the W of Cassiopeia the queen.

 

 Interesting Stars Visible in June and July (during observatory hours)

 

Name / Designation

Apparent Magnitude
(lower = brighter)

Distance

(light-years)

Notes

Arcturus

-0.05

36.7

 

Vega

0.03

25

 

Capella

0.08

42

 

Procyon

0.4

11

 

Altair

0.76

17

 

Spica

0.98

262

 

Pollux

1.16

38

 

Markab

1.25

140

 

Deneb

1.25

3230

 

Regulus

1.36

77

means "Little King"

Castor

1.58

52

 

Polaris

1.97

431

 

Alpheratz or Sirrah

2.07

97

 

Denebola

2.14

36.2

 

Enif

2.38

670

 

Albireo

3.2 / 5.8 & 5.1

390 / 380

 possibly a triple star system

Eta Cassiopeiae

3.5 / 7.4

19

480 yr orbit

 

Solar System

Mercury may still be visible before sunrise for a few days at the beginning of June, but will be passing behind the sun before the end of the month.  It will reemerge in the evening sky in mid-July and be visble after sunset for the rest of the month.

 

Venus will be most prominent before sunrise at the beginning of June, but will remain visible all through June and July.

 

Mars will be passing behind the sun in late July, but may still be visible after sunset in June.

 

Jupiter remains prominent throughout June and July but will be setting earlier each night.

 

Saturn is rising earlier each night, and by mid-June will be visible right after sunset.

 

Jupiter Great Red Spot Transits during June and July (when the Flandrau dome is open)

NOTE: The GRS is visible on the disk of Jupiter for 50 minutes before and after meridian transit time.

Date

Meridian Transit Time

06/01/17

08:00 PM

06/03/17

09:39 PM

06/08/17

08:47 PM

06/15/17

09:35 PM

06/30/17

07:02 PM

07/07/17

07:50 PM

07/14/17

08:38 PM

07/21/17

09:27 PM

 

Calendar of Night Sky Events

 

06/01/17

First Quarter Moon.

06/02/17

Appulse of Venus and Uranus. Separated by 1.7°.

06/03/17

Venus at greatest western elongation. Visible in the morning before sunrise.

06/07/17

Peak of Arietids meteor shower.

06/09/17

Full Moon and micromoon. Smallest full moon between 2015 and 2029.

06/15/17

Saturn at opposition. Best time to see this ringed planet.

06/17/17

Last Quarter Moon.

06/20/17

Earth at northern solstice. Beginning of our Summer.

06/21/17

Mercury at superior conjunction. Passing behind the sun.

06/23/17

New Moon.

06/28/17

Appulse of Mercury and Mars. Separated by only 0.8°.

06/30/17

First Quarter Moon.

07/03/17

Earth at aphelion. Our farthest distance from the Sun.

07/08/17

Full Moon.

07/09/17

Pluto at opposition. Best time to look for this dwarf planet.

07/16/17

Last Quarter Moon.

07/23/17

New Moon.

07/26/17

Mars at conjunction. Passing behind the Sun.

07/29/17

Mercury at greatest eastern elongation. Visible in the evening after sunset.

07/30/17

First Quarter Moon.

 

Deep Sky

There are several open star clusters we can see this time of year. First, Coma Berenices (Bernice's Hair) is high in the west near the tail of Leo.  Next, there is the Ptolemy cluster (M7) and the Butterfly (M6) in the southeast near the tail of Scorpius.  Also nearby is the Wild Duck (M11) in the constellation of Scutum.

 

Now that the Milky Way is coming up, there are several globular clusters we can see.  M3 is high in the west, in the constellation Boötes.  Nearby, the famous Hercules Globular (M13) is high in the east.  We also have M5 high in the south in the constellation of Serpens.  Finally, for those with a clear horizon, the amazing Omega Centauri (C80) is visible low to the south.

 

For nebulae, we can see the Swan (M17), the Lagoon (M8), and the Trifid (M20) to the southeast in the constellation Sagittarius.  The Eagle (M16) is nearby in the constellation of Serpens.  The North America nebula is also in the northeast in Cygnus.  For planetary nebulae, we have the Owl (M97) in Ursa Major high in the northwest.  We also have the Dumbbell (M27) in the west-northwest in the constellation of Vulpecula and the Ring (M57) nearby in Lyra.

 

And now the galaxies:  In Ursa Major to the northwest we have Bode's Galaxy (M81) and the Cigar Galaxy (M82), close enough to be seen together in a low-power telescope.  Nearby in the constellation Canes Venatici we have the Whirlpool (M51), which is a pair of colliding galaxies.  The Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) is also nearby near the handle of the Big Dipper.  Then the Southern Pinwheel (M83) is to the southwest in the constellation Hydra.  The Sombrero Galaxy (M104) is nearby in the constellation Virgo.

 Interesting Deep Sky Objects to Observe during June and July (during observatory hours)

Designation

Name

Apparent

Magnitude

Apparent Size

Distance

(light-years)

Type

Messier 31

Andromeda Galaxy

3.4

3° x 1°

2,900,000

spiral galaxy

Messier 44

Beehive Cluster

3.7

95'

577

open cluster

Messier 3

(in Canes Venatici)

6.2

18'

34,000

globular cluster

NGC 7009

Saturn Nebula

8

36"

2,400

planetary nebula

Messier 81

Bode's Galaxy

8.5

21'

1,200,000

spiral galaxy

NGC 3242

Ghost of Jupiter

8.6

25"

1400

planetary nebula

Messier 82

Cigar Galaxy

9.5

14'

1,200,000

galaxy

 

Frequently Asked Questions – How do we find small objects in our solar system?

Even though we can see galaxies millions or even billions of light years away, we are still discovering things in our solar system every day.  There are millions of objects orbiting our sun altogether, but finding them is not as simple as just looking through a telescope.  Small objects like asteroids are very faint, and appear as tiny pinpoints of light, indistinguishable from the background stars.

One way to discover new objects is by taking photos through a telescope.  You can then compare that image to a known star field to see if there is anything that has not yet been documented.  But even then, that does not give you enough information to say what that object might be or how far away it is.  You would have to take multiple photos of that part of the sky to figure out if the object is moving and how fast, and to prove it is not just a transient phenomenon or an image artifact.  With enough observations we can reliably calculate an orbit.  This orbit can be compared to all the known orbits of objects in our solar system to determine if it matches something already known or if it is a new discovery.  With a reliable orbit, the object should then be able to be found later if we want to study it further.

Another way we can find things is by sending spacecraft out to explore our solar system.  Many of the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune were discovered by the Voyager missions that went to visit these planets.  There's even an asteroid that was discovered to have a moon by the Galileo probe.  But just like when we use telescopes from here on Earth, we need to take multiple images to determine an orbit and predict where these objects will be in the future.

As our technology improves, we will continue to find smaller and smaller objects, so keep your eyes open!

If you have any questions you'd like me to answer in the next issue of SWG, please let me know.  I'm also happy to take suggestions or comments, and also pictures if you'd like to send them.  Happy viewing!

 

Table of Images (Click on an image to expand)

Sketches and Images - Image Credit (Tim Van Devender)

Mars

Mars

Saturn

Saturn

Jupiter

Jupiter

The Moon

The Moon

Jupiter and Io Moon Shadow

Jupiter and Io Moon Shadow

Messier 45 (Pleiades)

M45

NGC 884 and NGC 869 - Perseus Double Cluster

NGC 884 and NGC 869 - Perseus Double Cluster

NGC 2024 - The Horsehead and Flame Nebulae

NGC 2024 - The Horsehead and Flame Nebulae

NGC 2237 - The Rosette Nebula

NGC 2237 - The Rosette Nebula

NGC 2264

NGC 2264

Images from Alistair Symon
Messier 27 (Dumbbell Nebula)

M27

Mssier 31 (Andromeda Galaxy)

M31

Messier 33 (Triangulum Galaxy)

M33

Messier 45 (Pleiades)

M45

Messier 57 (Ring Nebula)

M57

Images from Nine Planets
Jupiter

Jupiter

The Moon

The Moon

Images from SEDS
Messier 13 (Hercules Globular Cluster)

M13

Messier 15

M15

Messier 27 (Dumbbell Nebula)

M27

Messier 31 (Andromeda Galaxy)

M31

Messier 33 (Triangulum Galaxy)

M33

Messier 44 (Beehive Cluster)

M44

Messier 45 (Pleiades)

M45

Messier 57 (Ring Nebula)

M57

NGC 7009 (The Saturn Nebula)

NGC 7009

NGC 7293 (The Helix Nebula)

NGC 7293

 

Bibliography

Cornelius, Geoffrey. The Starlore Handbook: an Essential Guide to the Night Sky. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle, 1997. Print.

Ottewell, Guy. Astronomical Calendar 2012. Raynham, Mass: Universal Workshop, 2011. Print.

Ottewell, Guy. Astronomical Calendar 2013. Raynham, Mass: Universal Workshop, 2012. Print.

Ottewell, Guy. The Astronomical Companion. 2nd ed. Raynham, Mass: Universal Workshop, 2010. Print.

 

Astronomy Magazine. February 2013. Volume 41, No 2.

Astronomy Magazine. February 2013. Volume 41, No 3.

Sky & Telescope. February 2013. Volume 125, No 2.

Sky & Telescope. March 2013. Volume 125, No 3.