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Sky Diary

The Sky at Night

As the sky darkens slightly in the late evening during June Leo is descending in the west. Boötes, the Herdsman, is high in the south with the bright star Arcturus shining despite the sky never being completely dark. Following Boötes closely are the rather less bright constellations of Corona Borealis and Hercules. The sky is not quite dark enough to see the delicate curve of stars forming the crown which is Corona and the same is true for the shape of Hercules. Traditionally, Hercules appears in the sky inverted, rather in the same way as Pegasus. In this position, Hercules is seen to be standing on the head of the defeated Draco, another rather faint constellation which winds its way almost overhead between the Great Bear und the Little Bear. The brightest stars of Hercules form what is called the Keystone because of their shape which is rather like a wedge similar to a keystone of a bridge or building. In the darkest part of June nights, look along the line joining the two western stars of the Keystone with binoculars and you should be able to see what appears to be a fuzzy star. This is the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, also designated as Messier 13 by Charles Messier in 1764. It is a tight collection of many thousands of ancient stars which is at a distance of 22,000 light years and orbits the Milky Way with another 150 similar clusters.

Noctilucent clouds are very high altitude, pearly white ice clouds which appear every year around the end of May. By June, the displays really get under way and may be seen quite frequently until early August anywhere between west, through north and towards the east. They will only be seen when the Sun has set and usually not until around 11pm through to before dawn. Displays may be quite faint but bright displays are spectacular and not easily missed if you look generally northwards during the darkest part of the night. They may be associated with global climate change and are being monitored by NASA's AIM satellite and by a network of ground based observers. The frequency of sightings has increased in recent years and may be even more frequent when solar activity is low, as it is at present.

The summer solstice this year falls on June 21st at 3.55pm.

The Planets

Mercury

Mercury

is quite distant from the Sun in the sky by later June but it is lost in the evening twilight until it sets about 1½ hours after the Sun. It will be very close to Mars on the 18th June but again twilight will hide this conjunction.

Venus

Venus

rises an hour before the Sun but suffers the same fate as Mercury being lost in the light of dawn.

Mars

Mars

is very low in the north-west setting 1½ hours after the Sun so will be difficult to spot.

Jupiter

Jupiter

rises before sunset and will be best seen low in the south at around 1am.

Saturn

Saturn

will be low towards the south south-east at around the same time but is much less bright than Jupiter.

The Moon

The Moon

is new on the 3rd, at first quarter on the 10th, full on the 17th and at last quarter on the 25th June.