The University of Arizona

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 to Observe

Name / Designation

Apparent Magnitude
(lower = brighter)

Distance

(light-years)

Notes

Sirius

-1.44

8.6

 

Arcturus

-0.05

36.7

 

Vega

0.03

25

 

Capella

0.08

42

 

Rigel

0.18

770

 

Procyon

0.4

11

 

Betelgeuse

0.45

427

 

Altair

0.76

17

 

Aldeberan

0.87

65

 

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

 

Mirach

2.07

199

 

Algol

2.09

93

variable star

Denebola

2.14

36.2

 

Enif

2.38

670

 

Almak

2.1 / 5.0 & 6.3

355

 triple star system w/ 64 yr orbit

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

Venus is visible in the morning sky before sunrise.

 

Jupiter is still in the constellation Gemini, and going down soon after sunset.

 

Mars is now high in the sky at the beginning of the night in the constellation Virgo, and is visible for several hours after sunset. 

 

Saturn is also high at the beginning of the night, in the constellation Libra, and is up till after midnight.

 

Mercury will be passing between us and the Sun in June, but will again be visible in the morning sky in July.

 

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

06/06/14

07:32 PM

06/13/14

08:21 PM

 

Calendar of Night Sky Events during June and July

06/05/14

First Quarter Moon.

06/07/14

Peak of Daytime Arietids meteor shower.

06/09/14

Peak of Daytime Zeta-Perseids meteor shower.

06/12/14

Full Moon

06/19/14

Last Quarter Moon.

06/19/14

Mercury at inferior conjunction. Not visible as it is passing between us and the sun.

06/21/14

Earth at northern solstice. The beginning of summer for the northern hemisphere.

06/27/14

New Moon.

06/28/14

Peak of Daytime Beta-Taurids meteor shower.

07/04/14

Pluto at opposition.Best time of year to look for this dwarf planet with a telescope, although it will still be difficult!

07/05/14

First Quarter Moon.

07/12/14

Full Moon.

07/12/14

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

07/16/14

Conjunction of Venus and Mercury. Separated by 6.2°

07/18/14

Last Quarter Moon.

07/24/14

Jupiter at conjunction. Not visible as it is directly behind the sun.

07/26/14

New Moon.

07/28/14

Peak of South Delta-Aquariids meteor shower.

07/29/14

Peak of Beta-Cassiopeids meteor shower.

 

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

Designation

Name

Apparent Magnitude

Apparent Size

Distance

(light-years)

Type

Messier 45

Pleiades

1.6

110'

440

open cluster

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 33

Triangulum Galaxy

5.7

67' x 42'

3,000,000

spiral galaxy

NGC 7009

Saturn Nebula

8

36"

2,400

planetary nebula

Messier 81

Bode's Galaxy

8.5

21'

1,200,000

spiral galaxy

Messier 82

Cigar Galaxy

9.5

14'

1,200,000

galaxy

 

Frequently Asked Questions – Why is the Milky Way so bright this time of year?  What is the Milky Way?

The Milky Way is very bright and easy to see in the Summer sky.  Most people know that the Milky Way is the galaxy that our solar system calls home.  It is made of a few hundred billion stars.  All the stars we can see with the naked eye are within our galaxy, but that is only a few thousand.  So most of the stars are too far away or too faint to see with the naked eye.  But because there are so many, their combined light makes the sky glow.  Our galaxy is shaped like a disk.  It is about 100,000 light years in diameter, and about 1000 light years in thickness.  That is why our Milky Way appears as a cloudy band in the sky.  In the summer and winter we are looking along the plane of our galaxy, and in the spring and fall we are looking out of the disk.

 

The reason the Summer Milky Way is brighter than the Winter Milky Way is that we are not in the center of our galaxy.  We are actually about halfway out from the center to the edge.  In the Summer, we are facing towards the middle, and hence we are looking at a lot more stars.  In the Winter we are facing towards the edge and thus at not as many stars.  It is good that we are not in the center of our galaxy because that is where the big supermassive black hole is located, and plus there are a lot more stars and so any planets in that area would be baked with intense UV radiation.

 

Our galaxy is a barred spiral, but we cannot see that shape directly.  It would be like trying to take a picture of the United States from your house.  To see the big picture of our galaxy we would have to travel thousands of light years out of the plane where all the stars are located.  But we can see other galaxies around us and get an idea of what ours might look like.  Using radio observations, we can peer deep into the parts of our galaxy that we cannot see with optical telescopes to confirm the shape.

 

Another thing you might notice about the Milky Way is that there is a dark dust lane cutting through it lengh-wise.  Since the background is brighter in the summer, this dust lane is also more obvious.  The dust lane is composed of dust (obviously) and gas that is not accumulated into stars and planets.  It is not very dense, but there is enough of it that it blocks out the light from stars in the background.

 

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.