Night sky highlights - June 2019

The best of astronomy this month:  Jupiter makes a grand return to the evening sky.

By Patricia Skelton, Astronomy Education Officer

(Details given are for London and may vary for other parts of the UK)

Top 3 things to see this month:

  • June 10 - Jupiter reaches opposition making this the best time of the year to observe the planet.
  • June 15 - Watch the Moon pass the pincer of the scorpion.
  • June 18 - Mars and Mercury pass close to each other after sunset.

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 talking about the NASA DART mission which will attempt to deflect an asteroid and answer the question "What does Charlie Brown have to do with a Guinness World Record?".   Have a listen below then vote for your favourite news story on our Twitter poll during the first week of the month.

Our podcast is available on iTunes too - search Look Up! and rate us if you enjoyed listening.

RSS feed

Throughout the month

The constellation Virgo

While we enjoy the warmer weather and longer days of summer, stargazing becomes a bit more challenging because the night sky never quite gets dark enough.  Despite this, there are a number of summer constellations that observers can enjoy.  Following the lion across the sky is the constellation Virgo the Maiden.  The second-largest constellation in the night sky, it is home to the Virgo Cluster, the nearest large galaxy cluster to the Earth.  From a dark-sky site, a medium-size telescope will reveal some of the cluster members.   Look towards the centre of the cluster and you’ll spot the giant elliptical galaxy M87.  Virgo is also home to the Sombrero galaxy – a spiral galaxy with a thick ring of dust giving it a sombrero-like appearance.  Use the brightest star in Virgo, the star Spica, to locate the Sombrero galaxy.  As with the Virgo Cluster, this galaxy is best viewed through a telescope.

10 June

Jupiter on June 10

Jupiter makes a grand return to the evening sky this month and reaches opposition on June 10.   At opposition, a planet is directly opposite the Sun in the sky making it the best time of the year to observe the planet.  Rising in the east just as the Sun sets in the west, Jupiter will lie low above the southern horizon so observers will need to have a clear view towards the south.  Using a pair of binoculars, or a telescope, will reveal the four largest moons of Jupiter – the Galilean moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.  Although Jupiter reaches opposition on June 10, it will not be at its closest to the Earth.  This is because the orbits of the planets are not perfect circles, so we have to wait until June 12 until the two planets are at their closest to each other.  

15 June

The Moon and the scorpion

On June 15, look towards the south to see the Moon brush past the pincer of the scorpion. The constellation Scorpius is one of the few constellations that resembles its namesake.   Scorpius is home to a number of deep sky objects and although we cannot see the entire constellation from our latitude, the portion we can see contains the globular star clusters M4 and M80.  Globular star clusters contain some of the oldest stars in the Universe and with stellar populations numbering in the tens of millions, globular clusters are definitely worth looking at.  To find M4, look to the right of the red supergiant Antares and for M80, scan the sky midway between Antares and Acrab.  As full moon occurs on June 17, wait until the dark skies at new moon to enjoy these deep sky objects.

18 June

Mars and Mercury on June 18

Grab a pair of binoculars, or a telescope, and go on a planet tour on the evening of June 18.  Look towards the north-western horizon after sunset and you’ll spot Mercury and Mars passing close to each other.  As both planets will be just above the horizon, you’ll need an unobstructed view to observe them.  Saturn rises in the south-east at around 10:30pm and is accompanied by the Moon.  The spectacular ring system of Saturn stands out in a telescope – the rings stretch over 170,000 miles from edge to edge but the average thickness is only around half a mile.  Although the Moon will be bright, you might just spot Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.  To see some more planets, you will have to wait until the early hours of the morning.  Neptune rises in the east at around 1:00am and Uranus rises around an hour and a half later.  Venus rises just before the Sun, but as it will lie very low above the horizon, you’ll need a clear view towards the north-east to spot it.

21 June

Solargraph showing the Sun's path. Credit Kelly Barfoot

The Sun reaches its most northerly point on its path through the sky on June 21.  Known as the summer solstice, it is the longest day and shortest night of the year and also marks the beginning, rather than the midpoint, of summer.  When the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun, it receives more direct sunlight and for a longer portion of the day, resulting in an increase in temperature.  However, the atmosphere and, more importantly, the oceans take time to heat up.   This results in a considerable lag between the summer solstice and the peak of the warm weather.  This is why the summer solstice is considered to be the start of summer with June, July and August the “summer months”.

The Moon's phases this month

An August New Moon © Nicolas Lefaudeux
An August New Moon © Nicolas Lefaudeux
  • 3 June - new moon (11:02am)
  • 10 June - first quarter moon (06:59am)
  • 17 June - full moon (09:31am)
  • 25 June - last quarter moon (10:46am)

See a selection of the amazing shortlisted photographs like An August New Moon © Nicolas Lefaudeux from the 2018 Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.

Stargazing tips

  • 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 binoculars?  Check out our range of high quality observing equipment recommended by Royal Observatory astronomers:

See our range of observing equipment

Share your astronomy pictures

Congratulations to Mary McIntyre for her beautiful 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

Marvellous Moons exhibition

Saturn and some of its moons
Saturn moon collage © NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Come and see spectacular images of the amazing moons in our solar system and learn more about them in our free exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

The exhibition is open daily until 20 March 2020.

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.

See the Sky Tonight planetarium show

Central image: © Mary McIntyre

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.

You can find them here

ROG video 'How do we know how old the Sun is?'
ROG video 'How do we know how old the Sun is?'
  • A whole host of podcasts featuring interviews with real space scientists, astronauts and active researchers working in UK universities.

You can listen to these here

Planets of our solar system
Career choice: planetary scientist (Credit: NASA/JPL)