The best of astronomy this month: Catch Saturn at opposition on the 27th June.
By Dhara Patel, Astronomy Education Officer
(Details given are for London and may vary for other parts of the UK).
Top 3 things to see this month:
Throughout the month - Spot Jupiter in the south and Venus in the west just after sunset.
12th Jun - Catch the crescent moon by the star Aldebaran.
27th Jun - Look for Saturn as it reaches opposition.
Look Up! Podcast
As well as taking you through what to see in the night sky each month, Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomers pick their favourite astro news story. For June, they're chatting about how scientists have shown why Saturn's small inner moons like Pan and Atlas formed into ravioli shapes and the discoveries of the Gaia mission so far after its second data release just last month. Have a listen below then vote for your favourite news story on our Twitter poll during the fisrt week of the month.
Our podcast is now available on iTunes too - search Look Up and rate us if you enjoyed listening!
This month marks the peak of the Sun’s path through our sky with the summer solstice on the 21st, after which the Sun will begin its long descent into the winter months. Unfortunately this means this month comes with its own unique challenges for astronomy. While the Sun may be high in the daytime sky, at night it only just drops below our horizon. Because of this, there are very few night time hours and most of those are in twilight. This means it only briefly gets truly dark, making observing faint objects all the more difficult.
On top of this, the ecliptic, the line that the Sun traces across our sky, is also the approximate path of the other major objects in our solar system, including the Moon and planets. So, while the Sun just drops below our horizon, the others only just rise above it, making them even harder to see. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The fairer weather conditions compared with winter mean we still have a great chance to see some exciting things in our night sky.
The Moon begins this month in its waning gibbous phase, having reached full moon on the 29th May. It begins rising in our sky around 11pm at the start of the month right next to the bright planet Saturn and remains visible until sometime after the Sun rises the following morning.
The Moon, now in its last quarter phase, lies in the constellation of Aquarius. Further over to the west in the neighbouring constellation of Capricornus is the red planet Mars. It's another one of the naked-eye planets and you could make out its red hue once your eyes are dark adpated.
With the Moon close to its new phase (which occurs on the 13th) and well out of the way in the sky, the middle of the month is the best time to try and observe faint objects in our sky. Looking towards the east you’ll catch the three bright stars that make up the Summer Triangle: Vega in Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus and Altair in Aquila. This popular asterism surrounds a portion of the faint light of our Galaxy, the Milky Way. In areas far from city light pollution you should be able to catch its trail running from the northern horizon, through these three stars and on to the southern horizon. However, in particularly good conditions you might just notice a break in its trail, leading from the Summer Triangle southwards. Known as the Great Rift, here distant clouds of dust and gas are blocking our view of the faint light of the billions of stars of the Milky Way.
Just before the Moon comes to its full phase again (on the 28th), Saturn reaches its opposition on the 27th. This is when it is both directly opposite the Sun in the sky and is closest to Earth. With a decent pair of binoculars you’ll be able to see that the object you are looking at is not the standard circle shape of a planet. With a small telescope, though, this shape will sharpen into the stunning rings that surround the planet. Made of tiny pieces of ice and rock, the rings are tens of thousands of kilometres across, but only about ten metres thick. If that’s not enough, throughout this month Jupiter is clearly visible in the sky and looking to the west just after the setting of the Sun, you might just spot the evening star, otherwise known as the planet Venus.
The Moon's phases this month
- 6 Jun - laster quarter moon (6:32pm)
- 13 Jun - new moon (7:43pm)
- 20 Jun - first quarter moon (10:51am)
- 28 Jun - full moon (4:53am)
See the other incredible photographs from the 2017 Insight Astronomy Photographer competition in our free exhibition like Mauna Kea Moonset by Sean Goebel which was highly commended for Our Moon category
- When looking at faint objects such as stars, nebulae, the Milky Way and other galaxies it is important to allow your eyes to adapt to the dark – so that you can achieve better night vision.
- Allow 15 minutes for your eyes to become sensitive in the dark and remember not to look at your mobile phone or any other bright device when stargazing.
- If you’re using a star app on your phone then switch on the red night vision mode.
- Need a stargazing telescope or decent binoculars? Check out our range of high-quality observing equipment recommended by Royal Observatory astronomers:
Share your astronomy pictures
Congratulations to Shawna Cadwell for her stunning image of the night sky. She shared her image on our astrophotography Facebook page and we chose it for June's banner image.
If you want to be in with a chance to showcase your astrophotography skills on the banner of next month's night sky blog, share your photos via our Royal Observatory Astrophotography Facebook group
You can also connect with us on Twitter @ROGAstronomers
Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year
Come and see the fantastic entries and winner to the world's largest astrophotography competition in our free exhibition at the Royal Observatory until July 2018.
See more of the night sky
Come on an amazing tour of this month's night sky in our Sky Tonight planetarium show delivered live by a Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomer.
Central image: © Shawna Cadwell
Resources for teachers and students
The Royal Observatory learning team have also created:
- Free animated videos that answer the biggest questions in astronomy and free resources to go alongside them.
- A whole host of podcasts featuring interviews with real space scientists, astronauts and active researchers working in UK Universities.