Our Celestial Coast: Jupiter, Saturn in June

Reprinted from the Island Free Press

May was a difficult month to stargaze, with several high-wind thunderstorms and lots of rainy nights.  I was able, however, to get a few shots on still, clear evenings.

Messier 88, a spiral galaxy, is in the constellation Coma Berenices. Photo: Gerry Lebing

Messier 88 is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Coma Berenices. Coma Berenices means the hair of Berenice.  Berenice was an Egyptian queen who had her hair cut off as a religious offering. M88 has a visual magnitude of +9.5 and is 36 million light years away. It was discovered on March 18, 1781, by Charles Messier.

Messier 13 is also known as the Hercules Cluster. Photo: Gerry Lebing

This is Messier 13, the Hercules Cluster. With a visual magnitude of +5.8, it can be viewed with the unaided eye on very clear, dark nights. If you take the time to head up on the beach or get away from light pollution by driving to Ramp 27, you will have a better chance of spotting it. You can locate it by mentally drawing a line from Arcturus towards a very bright star to the northeast, Vega. The Hercules Cluster is about two-thirds the length of that line. It will be difficult to see without binoculars or a telescope, but if you have the option of viewing M13 through binoculars or a telescope, you will be amazed at how spectacular it is.

What to Look for in June

Jupiter and Saturn offer great viewing throughout June.  Jupiter starts the month fairly high in the sky towards the southeast. To the unaided eye, it’s the brightest “star” in the sky. You can use binoculars or a telescope to get a closer look at this massive planet. Its diameter is 11 times larger than Earth’s, making Jupiter the second-largest object in the solar system – a distant second to the sun, which is 10 times brighter. Jupiter’s orbit is about 484 million miles from the sun. That’s more than five times as far from the sun, as we are 93 million miles away.

Saturn will rise just after 9 on the night of June 1. With a magnitude of +0.1, it’s pretty bright, but don’t confuse it with nearby red supergiant star, Antares. Antares is higher in the sky than Saturn and will be visible just after sunset. Like Jupiter, Saturn is fun to explore with the unaided eye, then with a good pair of binoculars, and then with a telescope. It appears to be a bright star to the unaided eye, but through very good binoculars you can distinguish an oblong shape that is caused by its rings. When you view Saturn through a telescope, its famous rings offer one of the most outstanding sights in the night sky. Saturn is nine times larger than Earth and almost nine times farther from the sun than Earth, 888 million miles. It’s the third-largest object in our solar system. Saturn will be at opposition to the Earth on June 15. That means it’s the closest to us it ever gets, about 746 million miles, and it will be visible all night long.

Mars will be visible near the western horizon just after sundown. Venus will be visible near the eastern horizon just before sunrise.

Moon Phases

  • First quarter: June 1
  • Full: June 9
  • Third quarter: June 17
  • New Moon: June 23

This story is provided courtesy of the Island Free Press, a digital newspaper covering Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Coastal Review Online is partnering with the Free Press to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest along our coast. You can read other stories about Hatteras and Ocracoke here.

About the Author

Gerry Lebing

Gerry Lebing is a retired computer scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Astronomy is a subject that Gerry says he has always been interested in and one that he pursues seriously -- he's built an small observatory next to his house in Waves on Hatteras Island. You can send him questions about the night sky by email, gerry@wmi.org.